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Tasers: MET Police deployment of tasers set to begin amid storm of international controversy

Amnesty International today (7 December) expressed concern at the ongoing pilot initiative for wider deployment of Taser stun guns being carried out by the Home Office, as London’s Metropolitan Police prepare to enter the scheme despite strong reservations by the Metropolitan Police Authority.

The Metropolitan Police Service is the final UK constabulary to join the trial allowing non-firearms trained officers to use the weapons and for the stun gun to be used in a greater set of circumstances. Nine other forces across the country began the pilot initiative on 1st September but the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed concerns about the scheme.

Earlier this month the Home Secretary said that she “could see a day” when Tasers could at some stage be rolled out to all police officers. In Police Review Weekly, Jacqui Smith said that arming all officers in the future could be seen as a “sensible sort of provision”.

But Smith’s comments and the London pilot come amid a storm of international controversy surrounding the use of the Tasers. In October a Polish man died after being shot with a Taser by police officials as he waited to meet his mother in an airport in Vancouver, Canada. And just last month, a report published by the UN Committee Against Torture described the impact of the Taser weapon as “provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture and that in certain cases it could also cause death.” UN office at Geneva press release, 23 November 2007

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

“Recent cases have proven just how dangerous these weapons can be. There’s a real climate of caution at the moment around the use of Tasers in other countries. It’s simply the wrong time for British police forces to be extending their use of Tasers.

“At the very least the Metropolitan Police Authority must maintain rigorous and close scrutiny of the way in which these dangerous weapons are used by officers and ensure that they employ the strictest levels of accountability.

“Ultimately the decision to extend Taser deployment should be reversed, until further examination is considered at an international level.”

Notes to editors

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
  • The Home Office has demonstrated how the use of Tasers will be consistent with its obligations under international human rights guidelines and has demonstrated 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 deployment by Specialist Firearms Officers.

Taser 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.

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