Sat, 29 Mar 2014

More police officers use more Tasers more often

Home Office statistics show that the use of Tasers keeps increasing, by 27% in 2013 compared to 2012. Police officers in England and Wales equipped with Tasers used them 10,380 times in 2013. More police officers are responsible for this increase. The article Tasers: the 'non-lethal' weapon reckoned to have caused more than 500 deaths, published in November 2013 on The Justice Gap, explains that, '[i]nitially only Authorised Firearm Officers (AFO) were equipped with Tasers, however 'Currently there are 14,700 officer trained to use Tasers [but the] number of AFOs is 6,979.' The Justice Gap has also published a video of a Taser refresher course with the London Metropolitan Police in 'Shocking Britain': the controversial roll-out of the Taser.

The timeline for rollout in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is described in a letter to the London Assembly's Chair of the Police and Crime Committee:

The initial trial of Taser concluded on the 31st March 2004.  In July 2007 the Home Secretary approved a year long trial of 10 forces to extend the use to "specially trained units" (STUs). The MPS was one of these forces. Its use was initially restricted to SCO20 (TSG) officers. In February 2012 Management Board supported the extension of Taser to other STUs including those on Boroughs.

In October 2012, when 48 police officers were deployed to River House, an NHS mental health unit (NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward), this extension to borough officers hadn't been completed. And the police wanted Tasers to 'managed the situation' involving mental health patients. AC Mark Rowley wrote 'Armed response vehicles responded to this incident as they were the nearest available unit with a Taser capability. You will recall that at this time, only firearms officers and TSG were the only units equipped with Taser.' The MPS confirms that the roll-out of Tasers to trained Territorial Police officers has been completed:

All 32 London boroughs now have a group of officers on their borough who are trained in the use of Taser.

[...] Around forty officers from each borough have been trained in the use of Taser. The initial training is now complete. Taser trained officers are deployed in pairs in two cars on each borough, that's a maximum of 4 officers per 8 hour shift over a 24 hour period.

Even more officers may eventually get a Taser as '[i]n November 2011, Commissioner Hogan-Howe said that all officers should have easy availability of Taser.' (interview with LBC radio as reported in Governance of Taser and other less-lethal weaponry). And as a report published earlier this week by the Independent Police Complaint Commission shows, some of these officers make mistakes with terrible consequences such as firing a Taser on a 63-year old blind man with a white stick when looking for someone in his mid-twenties with a sword.

How Tasers are used is recorded:

Level of use Type of use % uses in 2013 (*) Definition
Highest use Fired 17% The taser is fired with a live cartridge installed. When the trigger is pulled, the probes are fired towards the subject with the intention of completing an electrical circuit and delivering an incapacitating effect.
  Angled Drive Stun
The officer fires the weapon with a live cartridge installed. One or both probes may attach to the subject The officer then holds the taser against the subject's body in a different area to the probe(s), in order to complete the electrical circuit and deliver an incapacitating effect.
  Drive stun 3% The taser is held against the subject's body and the trigger is pulled with no probes being fired. Contact with the subject completes the electrical circuit which causes pain but does not deliver an incapacitating effect.
Non-discharges Red dot 51% The weapon is not fired. Instead, the taser is deliberately aimed and then partially activated so that a laser red dot is placed onto the subject.
  Arcing 1% Sparking of the taser without aiming it or firing it.
  Aimed 5% Deliberate aiming of the taser at a targeted subject.
Lowest use Drawn 22% Drawing of taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action to be a use of force.

(*) Percentage for England and Wales that 'excludes Humberside and West Midlands who are unable to provide a full breakdown of taser use'. (Source)

Even though information about Taser use is held, it does not follow that police forces are forthcoming about how Tasers were used at specific incidents. In my Freedom of Information requests to the MPS about the River House incident, no such data was provided. This is subject to an internal review.

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback