UK – The Police Use of Tasers in the UK (2012-02-22)

Published on March 22 2012 by admin

[[SUMMARY / COMMENTS: A straight-talking police perspective on the use of tasers in the UK, Amnesty International’s position on tasers, the at-risk populations, the dangers of their overuse and their association with two deaths and use in the eviction of travellers at Dale Farm.]]

Tasers are classed as non lethal weapons that can be used by the police to help subdue violent or fleeing people that are considered dangerous. They were first trialled in the UK in 2003, and since then, have been used in over 9000 incidents. Since their introduction, three people have died after tasers have been deployed in the UK, and it is deaths like these which cause controversy over their usage.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International appear to also have mixed views over the use of tasers. However, when the UK police forces moved from a position of tasers being carried by only firearms units, to being able to be carried by any officer with just 18 hours training, they were vocally against it.

“As a weapon of last resort it’s clearly better to shoot someone with a Taser than shoot them with a gun,” Oliver Sprague of Amnesty has said. “But we’re concerned they will be used by more people, more often in less extreme circumstances. They are being rolled out to more and more officers and the rules on when they are being used are not clear enough.”

The recognised problem with tasers, is that there are some groups of people who are more at risk from them being used than others. These include people who have a mental illness, children, smaller adults, people with heart complaints and persons who may be under the influence of drink or drugs. This means that the police must make an on the spot judgement as to if the use of a taser should be made or not, weighing up these variables as well as public safety.

It is not an exact science, as is illustrated by the case of Howard Swarray from Manchester. During a workout at his local gym, Howard suffered from an epileptic seizure. Officers were called onto the scene, and a taser was used against him twice. A later investigation found that the Greater Manchester Police acted correctly, but urged that a policy review for how people suffering from medical problems should be applied to the use of tasers.

Another incident where the use of a taser by the police ended in a fatality involved Dale Burns. Police were visiting his flat in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in an attempt to arrest him for criminal damage. He was tasered several times, as well as being sprayed with pepper spray during the arrest attempt. He was later rushed to hospital where he was then pronounced dead. Dale Burns was a healthy gym goer, who had no known medical conditions.

Whilst these could be classed as isolated incidents, it does also go to show that even though the taser is classed as a non lethal weapon, people can still die after its use. Statistically, this means that the more often it is used, the more often people may die. This is of particular concern if the taser is used in general public order situations.

Perhaps the first time in the UK that tasers were deployed on a large scale in a public order situation, was during the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm. During the operation to evict the travellers, the police came under attack from missiles in the form of stones and bottles being thrown at them. This, in turn, led to the deployment of tasers being used on the front line. The most controversial usage of tasers yet, it may have set a precedent for other public order situations including strikes, demonstrations and crowd control.

In the UK, there are far fewer police incidents involving tasers than the USA. The fear is, though, that as the usage of tasers in the UK becomes less of a novelty, and the training and policy guidelines become less strict, they will be used more and more. This may, in turn, lead to a higher number of deaths relating to them, something that nobody wishes to happen.




Leave a Reply