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Tasers: Only best-trained officers should have Tasers, says Amnesty

Amnesty International today called upon the Home Office to guarantee that the Taser electro-shock weapon would not be deployed any wider than firearms officers and a limited number of specially trained officers across the UK.

The organisation called for this assurance after the government announced that police forces across the UK could arm frontline officers with Tasers, following a 12-month trial in which non-firearms officers were allowed to use the weapon.

Stun guns are potentially lethal electrical weapons. The pistol-shaped Taser 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 has always stated that police officers have a duty to protect themselves and others from harm. Amnesty is not opposed to the use of Taser in situations where it is strictly necessary to protect life and when officers are faced with imminent threats to life or very serious injury.

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

"Amnesty recognises the very difficult job police officers have to do and we don't actually oppose the use of Tasers as long as it's by a limited number of highly-trained specialist officers, responding to genuinely life-threatening or very dangerous situations.

"Tasers are potentially lethal weapons which are already linked to numerous deaths in north America and that's why wide deployment without adequate training is a dangerous step too far for British policing.

"We believe the Home Secretary should urgently review this decision and ensure that Tasers only end up in the hands of a small number of fully-trained officers capable of making the potentially-fatal decision over whether to fire 50,000 volts into a person's body."

Since 2001 Amnesty International has found that more than 300 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 a contributory factor or indeed a direct link to the death.

Oliver Sprague continued:

“It’s fair to say that the UK police force sets the standard when it comes to policing around the world. The UK has always prided itself on its approach of ‘policing by consent’ rather than ‘compliance by pain’.

“We do not want to see a seismic shift in the culture of British policing. Widespread and routine deployments can lead to Tasers being misused, as we have seen in the US, which has on some occasions led to death. We don’t want to repeat this in UK policing.”

Amnesty International believes that Tasers can only be used if:

· Officers carrying Tasers are trained to firearms officer standards on an ongoing basis

· Tasers are used as a weapon of last resort – in situations which fall only just below the point when lethal force should be used.

· Roll-out is highly restricted and then only to specially trained officers

· The 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.

Oliver Sprague continued:

“Of course the police 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 necessary safeguards could well be a recipe for disaster.”

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