Tasers: painful and potentially lethal

“Officers should not be armed with Tasers if they cannot use them properly,” said Peter Cox from Bridgwater to the Mirror after accidentally being shot in the groin with a Taser as a police officer was lowering the weapon.   

With that statement Mr Cox, I have to agree.  In fact Amnesty has been saying it for years, and this recent reported incident demonstrates exactly why we’ve always called for these stun guns to be handled by the highest-trained officers, so mistakes like 50,000 volts of electric shock to the groin don’t occur.

But more than being excruciatingly painful, Amnesty has long expressed concerns that Tasers are potentially lethal.  In 2005, Taser International changed their description of Tasers from ‘non-lethal’ to ‘less-lethal’ and since 2001 Amnesty has recorded that more than 345 people have died after being shocked by a Taser.

This is the area of concern for the family of Raoul Moat who have decided to pay for a second post-mortem, after his initial autopsy made no reference to the XREP.  The Sun reports that the family want ‘peace of mind’.  Given that the weapon had not received Home Office approval, as Channel 4 News reminds us, and also given that a previous independent study conducted on the XREP in 2008 revealed it to have inaccuracies, it is unsurprising that the family want reassurance.

It’s also interesting to note Sir Hugh Orde’s (ACPO President) praise of the officers’ decision to use Tasers rather than lethal force.  Amnesty also welcomes the police’s decision to choose an alternative to lethal force but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the XREP is a potentially lethal weapon.  As such, there can be no reason for a weapon to be used which hasn’t been officially authorised, thoroughly tested, nor for the use of which the officers had not been properly trained.

Using a potentially lethal weapon in a live situation and without being given a satisfactory level of training surely leaves even the most confident firearms officer in a precarious situation.  

The scenarios of Mr Cox and Mr Moat are completely different but there does appear to be one consistent point. Whether it’s being accidentally Tasered in the groin, or whether an officer is armed with a more powerful version of the Taser and given little time to practice, one thing is clear:  Tasers are dangerous weapons and should only be handled in the most restricted circumstances and after officers have been given the highest-level of training possible.  

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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