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Tasers should be a weapon of last resort only, says Amnesty

Amnesty International today called for guarantees that the Taser electro-shock weapon would not be deployed any wider than specialist firearms officers in Northern Ireland.

The organisation called for this assurance after the government announced that police forces in England and Wales 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’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, Patrick Corrigan said

"Tasers should never go beyond 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."

"The Policing Board has already accepted that Tasers are potentially lethal weapons and Amnesty has documented how they have been linked to numerous deaths in north America. That's why wide deployment without adequate training would be a dangerous step for policing in Northern Ireland.

“This country has a tradition of ‘policing by consent’ rather than ‘compliance by pain’. In the United States, where there is widespread deployment of this weapon, there have been numerous incidents of misuse of Tasers and a series of Taser-linked deaths. We don’t want to see the PSNI repeating these mistakes.”

“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.”

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.

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 and the PSNI has demonstrated how the use of Taser will be consistent with their obligations under international human rights guidelines and what policies and procedures are in place to prevent misuse of electro-shock weapons.

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