Tasers: warning over Thames Valley Police's increase in the weapon's use

‘It’s surely only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong when a Thames Valley Police officer fires a Taser weapon’ - Oliver Sprague 
 
Responding to new figures showing greatly-increased deployment of Taser weapons by police officers from Thames Valley Police, Amnesty International warned that it was “only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong” as a consequence of the police force’s increased use of the controversial device.
 
Figures newly released by Thames Valley Police following a freedom of information disclosure about its use of the controversial weapon, reveal that the police authority used Tasers well over 100 times last year compared to just seven times in 2007 and 18 times in 2008. In summary, the following figures show the following Taser deployment rates by Thames Valley Police: 
 
2007 (September onwards): seven times 
2008: 18 times 
2009: 43 times 
2010: 58 times 
2011: 42 times 
2012: 61 times 
2013 (January-November): 119 times
 
The full figures - which are available at http://goo.gl/kxc4h2 - include both so-called “red dot” deployments where a police officer draws the weapon and points the “red dot” aiming laser at the intended target, as well as actual “firing” usage, where the 50,000-volt electrically-charged metal prongs are fired at the targeted person. In a small number of instances the figures also include a notification of a “drive stun” usage, where the weapon is actually placed directly on the targeted person’s body. There have been particular concerns that drive stun Taser use is a “pain compliance” technique where with the weapon particularly open to abusive use, including because it has the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button, often without leaving marks.
 
Amnesty International UK’s Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:
 
“Without urgently-needed new safeguards, and at these significantly-increased rates of usage, it’s surely only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong when a Thames Valley Police officer fires a Taser weapon. 
 
“We’ve always said that Tasers can have a part to play in policing operations where there’s a clear risk of death or serious injury to police officers or members of the public - but Tasers should be used sparingly and only by highly-trained officers. 
 
“Since Thames Valley gave these dangerous and indeed potentially lethal weapons to their rank-and-file police officers, the escalation in use is extremely concerning.”

At the beginning of 2013, Thames Valley Police announced that it would widen the deployment of Tasers to 200 non-specialist firearms officers, a move that followed similar wider deployments by other police authorities across the UK.
 
For several years Amnesty has been insisting that police authorities should carefully restrict the deployments of Tasers to officers trained to standards commensurate with those of specialist firearms officers. The Home Office’s guidance to police authorities over the use of Tasers has meanwhile been criticised as insufficiently clear on the key issue of when - and when not - a Taser should be used by a police officer. Amnesty is calling for the guidelines to be revised and for training to be expanded and enhanced.
 
Amnesty has repeatedly warned that Tasers should only be used in response in circumstances where individuals - including police officers - are faced with a genuinely life-threatening situation.
 
Background
In the last decade, Amnesty research has documented over 500 deaths following Taser use in the United States. In a significant number of cases, medical experts have identified the Taser as a contributory factor in the death.
 

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