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Value of Taser use remains uncertain amid lack of transparency

By DPF Admin7th July 2015August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

At the last count 33 people a week were shot with Taser stun guns in England and Wales. Children as young as 14 and pensioners as old as 82 were among those to feel the shock of the Metropolitan police’s X26 Tasers last year.

According to one former police weapons expert the “overwhelming” pain of the pulsing charge from the device, which hooks into your flesh, “floods every area of your consciousness”.

But as the use of Tasers steadily grows, opinions about their value remain dramatically divided. The Home Office describes them as “an important tactical option to help specially trained police officers resolve potentially violent situations safely”. While Amnesty International says they are a potentially lethal weapon, which should be withdrawn from use by non-specialist firearms officers, many of whom currently carry them.

The inquest into the death of Jordan Begley, who died in Manchester after being hit by a police Taser, is just the latest to have asked whether Tasers kill. The jury concluded it did contribute to the 23-year-old’s death in 2013. Between 2004 and 2013, the Independent Police Complaints Commission received 11 referrals about Taser use where someone died. In none of them was the use of a Taser found to have directly caused a death.

Inquests have been carried out into the deaths of Taser targets, Martin Baskeyfield and Andrew Pimlott. Baskeyfield was admitted to hospital days after he was Tasered in Stoke-on-Trent and died three months later. The coroner concluded he died of natural causes and said “an investigation determined that the deployment of the Taser did not impact upon [his] death”. Pimlott burst into flames after he was hit by a taser in Plymouth having already covered himself in petrol. He appeared to be striking a match to set himself alight and the police officer Tasered him to try to stop him. It sparked a fireball and Pimlott died from severe burns.

Concerns about their use are now being exacerbated by a lack of up-to-date information. The home secretary, Theresa May, has suspended the publication of Taser data after her officials “uncovered inaccuracies in the data held on the Home Office Taser database and in the police’s own recorded data”.

The last national figures are for the first six months of 2014 and show that Tasers were drawn on 5,107 occasions and fired 826 times, but May has ordered “an in-depth review of the publication of Taser data and other use of force by police officers”, according to a spokesperson, who added: “It is vital that its use is appropriate and proportionate, and transparent to the public.”

It is expected that the publication of statistics will resume on 9 July and overall Taser use is likely to have increased again. Across England and Wales, Taser use has risen around five-fold since the start of 2009, according to the latest data.

But the recent lack of information over the use of the weapon has worried human rights campaigners. Amnesty International UK said it was concerned about “ongoing problems” with records about Taser use and transparency.

“Amnesty has been calling for a consistent approach to the way Taser use is recorded,” said spokesman Niall Couper. The group saidd that without proper records it was impossible to “give the British public confidence that Tasers are being used appropriately and only in response to the most serious incidents”.

In a report on Taser use (pdf) last year, the Independent Police Complaints Commission warned of “mission creep” and said it was important to ensure that Tasers were “not being used inappropriately or as a default choice where other tactical options, including communication, could be effective”.

There are big variations in their usage, IPCC data shows. In 2013 police in Staffordshire used Tasers three times more per 100 officers than their counterparts in Lancashire.

The pain of being hit by a Taser is “difficult to describe”, according to one expert in police use of restraint and pain techniques.

“It totally and utterly floods every area of your consciousness,” he said, on condition of anonymity.

“It really is extreme. I suffered the typical effects of going quite rigid. It is like your muscles contract into one mass. Immediately I could feel myself starting to fall. When the current was switched off, the muscles relaxed again. With the Taser your body is flooded with a painful sensation.”

Data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that in London, the police force area where Tasers are most often used, officers drew Tasers 1,934 times in 2014 and fired them 215 times.

Of those “stunned”, 11 were children, aged under 18. Officers also fired them at two 85-year-olds in 2013 and one 82-year-old in 2014.

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