Tasers: PSNI operational guidelines published - by us

In the interests of transparent and accountable policing, I am publishing here the PSNI's operational policy and guidance on the use of Tasers, which I have obtained through a Freedom of Information enquiry. You can follow my blog trail on Tasers from here.

It's a very useful document and well worth a read for anyone with an interest in this subject, but still leaves some unanswered questions as to how and when the devices will be used.

We at Amnesty certainly have a high level of interest, given our documentation of how the electro-shock devices have been used in the United States and Canada over the last number of years. Many people will also have seen the shocking (no, really) footage on TV or online, of how officers there have used Tasers as a 'compliance through pain'  weapon and how numerous deaths have followed their use (290 and rising last time I checked).

For the latest from Amnesty USA on this and for other video links go here.

Of course, the PSNI is at pains to point out that it's planned use (as far as we know, they haven't actually been drawn or fired in Northern Ireland since the start of the police pilot in late January) will not be the same as that seen in north America.

Amnesty welcomes these assurances, but we still have some very valid concerns which have not yet been addressed.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde recently wrote to the Irish News (in response to a piece I had written) that people here should be reassured by the experience of the use of Tasers in the rest of the UK.

Really? Some of us may recall the death of 47 year-old Brian Loan from County Durham who died in October 2006, after being ‘tasered’ in his home. His family certainly blame the electro-shock for his death.

Then there is the case of Nicholas Gaubert who was ‘Tasered’ after slipping into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds in July 2005. He appears to have been shot with the Taser because he didn't respond to police orders (he was unconscious at the time).

Or, for some further reassurance, what about the case of the 15 year-old North Wales boy who was ‘Tasered’ during an incident in his home? From media reports, this teenager certainly doesn't seem to have been threatening anyone's life and surely no-one is suggesting he would have been shot with a gun if the Taser hadn't been available to the North Wales Police (they of the Taser-happy Chief Constable), given that the Taser is supposed to be an "alternative to lethal force" (PSNI guidelines).

The PSNI guidelines also make clear that the Taser can be used by the police in "drive stun mode" – i.e. held up against the target's body, with the electric shock being applied directly. The device gives out five-second bursts of electric charge and this can be repeated until it has had its desired effect. It is interesting that the North Wales police chief  Richard Brunstrom only succumbed to 1.5 seconds of shock when he volunteered to be Tasered.

While we can now publish these guidelines (thanks to FoI), the PSNI has denied us information about the Taser training regime for officers. This part of the Freedom of Information enquiry has been turned down by the police on the grounds that disclosure would "compromise the PSNI’s ability to perform its overall functions under the Police (NI) Act 2000".

I don't agree and have appealed the decision. There is clearly a major public interest here which ought to meet the test for disclosure. The NI Human Rights Commission, which has been given access to this information, has already been openly critical of the police training for Tasers.

The Commission also echo some of our own concerns – that the Taser pilot has gone ahead without the completion of the Equality Impact Assessment (in conflict with the advice of the Equality Commission NI) and that initial piloting will pave the way to much wider usage, as we are already beginning to witness in GB. 

For now, if you would like to participate in the PSNI's (belated!) Equality Impact Assessment, please follow instructions here at the PSNI website.

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