UK – The London Metropolitan Police must heed the warnings about Tasers (2011-12-12)

Published on December 12 2011 by admin

[[SUMMARY / COMMENTS :A British lawyer (solicitor) warns that “this weapon can kill – it should be restricted to life-threatening circumstances”. The new Met police chief calling for a widespread introduction of the Taser stun gun onto the streets of our cities. This backdoor militarisation of our unarmed police force, if implemented, would end centuries of traditional ‘policing by consent’ and propel us into a dangerous world of ‘policing by compliance’ where those arrested will be routinely subjected to 50,000 volts of electric shock…]]

www.solicitorsjournal.com, by Sophie Khan

Evidence shows this weapon can kill – it should be restricted to life-threatening circumstances, says Sophie Khan

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, may be new to his post but he has already started to ruffle the feathers of many in London.

Along with the commissioner’s ‘Total policing’ programme, which aims to crack drown on gangs, uninsured drivers, and those who do not own a TV licence, he is proposing a widespread introduction of the Taser stun gun onto the streets of our cities. This backdoor militarisation of our unarmed police force, if implemented, would end centuries of traditional ‘policing by consent’ and propel us into a dangerous world of ‘policing by compliance’ where those arrested will be routinely subjected to 50,000 volts of electric shock.

His proposal on 22 November 2011 was made following the stabbing of three Metropolitan police officers on 19 November 2011 in a butcher’s shop in Kingsbury, Harrow, and made in isolation of the current statistics that show a dramatic rise in the use of the Taser stun gun over the last year. On average there has been a 130 per cent increase across the forces. The statement by the Metropolitan Police Service following the commissioner’s comments earlier on the same day confirm that “a piece of work is ongoing to review the current availability of Tasers”.

Tasers are defined in ACPO’s Taser Operational Guidance 2008 as “a single shot weapon designed to temporarily incapacitate a subject through the use of an electrical current, which temporarily interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system”. Their use is only permitted “when officers would be facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the subject(s)”. If the use of the Taser falls outside this criteria then the offence of torture may have been committed as section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 states that “a public official or person acting in an official capacity, whatever his nationality, commits the offence of torture if in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of his official duties”.

The lack of a definitive list of circumstances in which a Taser can be deployed has left officers exposed to both criminal charges and violations of the Human Rights Act 1998. The state’s duty under article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights provides that “no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”. The use of the Taser stun gun could be an arguable breach of article 3 if officers are unable to establish the ‘appropriate’ and ‘necessary’ test for deployment. Assenov v Bulgaria [1999] 28 EHRR 652 provided further weight to this argument: “In respect of a person deprived of his liberty, recourse to physical force which has not been made strictly necessary by his own conduct diminishes human dignity and is in principle an infringement of the right set forth in article 3.”

Fatal consequences

A separate concern is the multiple Taser discharges that have lead to hundreds of deaths in the US. In 2008, Darryl Turner, a 17-year-old shop assistant in Charlotte, North Carolina, died after the Taser discharge was extended to a 37-second shock, and, in 2005, Robert Heston, a 40-year-old Californian man, was subjected to 75 seconds of repeated Taser discharges and died of a heart attack.

Taser International, the company that manufactures the Taser stun gun was ordered to pay $10m (£6m) and $6.2m (£3.7m) respectively in compensation to their families. The company maintains that although the product is safe it is not risk-free and for this reason the Taser is classified as a ‘prohibited weapon’ by virtue of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

It is therefore worrying to learn that the Home Office has labelled the Taser a “tool that helps protect the public” when evidence shows the contrary. In the last year Tasers have been used on the elderly and on children and used by the Metropolitan Police’s territorial support group on teenagers in public disorder situations since 2008. The most recent reported use of the Taser was on the man who had injured the officers on 19 November after he allegedly continued to resist arrest at the police station. He was Tasered twice.

The Taser is a lethal weapon and its use can only be justified in life-threatening circumstances. The warning sign that an even wider use of the Taser could lead to fatalities should not be ignored and raises questions as to why the commissioner has not taken that into account. A public consultation on the use of Tasers is now overdue, and, in light of the ‘independent’ review commissioned by Labour into the future of policing in the 21st century, there is no better time to talk about Tasers.

Postscript:

Sophie Khan specialises in actions against the police at GT Stewart and represents a number of people who have been Tasered by the police. Contact: s.khan@gtstewart.co.uk

http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/story.asp?sectioncode=3&storycode=19323&c=3

 

 

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