Tasers: Increased deployment marks the start of a slippery slope

Amnesty International today (31 August) expressed grave concern at the wider deployment of Taser electro-shock weapons to police officers in ten forces across the UK which are taking part in a pilot 12-month trial expected to start on Saturday 1 September.

Up until now Taser electro-shock weapons have only been used by specialist firearms officers and only as an alternative to lethal force. From 1 September, other police units will be armed with Tasers and will be able to use the weapons in a wider set of circumstances.

Stun guns are potentially lethal electrical weapons. The pistol shaped weapon delivers 50,000 volts of electricity into a person’s body. The result is excruciatingly painful, causing a person to fall to the ground and, at times, lose control of their bodily functions.

Amnesty International’s Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague said:

“We’re worried that this could be the start of a slippery slope – towards further arming of the police, or towards a situation like that in the US where Tasers have been widely misused and people have died.

“Because these weapons are potentially lethal, police officers must be trained to the same high standard as they are for using a firearm, receiving intensive, ongoing training to ensure that they only use these dangerous weapons in the right situations.”

Since 2001 Amnesty International has found that more than 220 people have died after being shot with Tasers in the US. In many of these cases, the coroner listed the use of the Taser as contributory factor or indeed a direct link to the death.

Amnesty International believes that Tasers can only be used if:

  • Tasers are only used as an alternative to lethal force where situation presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to officers or others
  • Officers carrying Tasers are trained to firearms standards on an ongoing basis
  • Roll-out is highly restricted and then only to specially trained officers
  • he Home Office has demonstrated how the use of Taser will be consistent with its obligations under international human rights guidelines and what policies and procedures are in place to prevent misuse of electro-shock weapons.

As far as Amnesty International is aware, none of these things has been spelt out and therefore Amnesty continues to oppose widespread deployment beyond the current policy of Specialist Firearms Officers.

Oliver Sprague continued:

“The UK police force has always prided itself on policing by consent and not by force. This move to arm more police officers with Tasers is moving the UK force further and further away from this culture.

“The police absolutely have a duty to protect themselves and the community at large from violent situations, but arming more officers with dangerous weapons without the rigorous training and safeguards that’s needed may not be the best solution.“

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NOTES TO EDITORS
1) The forces involved in this pilot scheme are:
Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police Service, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales, West Yorkshire

2) The 12-month pilot trial commences on 1 September 2007

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