Last Thursday, I reported the debate at the Metropolitan Police Authority about the possible wider use of Tasers in London. There were considerable reservations about this expressed by some members of the Authority (and by some in the public gallery).
I am personally keen that there should be proper consultation and debate on the issue and I do not think the arguments are clearcut.
The use of any weapon by the police has got to be proportionate and appropriate to the risks involved. Any weapon can cause more harm than originally intended.
However, temporarily incapacitating someone with a Taser, so that they can be restrained and arrested, is likely to be better than killing them by shooting a large hole in their chest or head with a firearm.
Nevertheless, putting a 50,000 volt charge through someone should not be done lightly – it is unlikely not to lead to adverse consequences in at least some circumstances. But these risks need to be weighed against the risks of not using a Taser, such as the risks of harm coming to a member of the public or to a police officer by not quickly restraining someone who is running amok.
Therefore, this evening’s piece on the Inspector Gadget blog makes instructive reading. His police force makes Tasers available to all front-line patrol teams, and he offers three recent incidents where Tasers have been deployed as part of routine patrol duties as follows:
“1. The usual call to a ‘male with a samurai sword’ running about in Ruraltown High Street threatening to kill passing members of the public, stripped to the waist (why are they always stripped to the waist?) high on something and very, very violent. TASER crew arrives within 4 minutes, draws TASER, red-dots the man and orders him to drop the sword.
In a miracle of instant recovery, all the man’s mental health and drug issues disappear and he drops the sword. A completely compliant arrest follows with no injuries to anyone.
Previously this would have required shields, large batons, a firearms unit and a long delay during which he could have killed anyone he wanted, including the first police officers on the scene.
2. A disqualified driver, known for violence against police officers, bailed out of a stolen vehicle after a pursuit. Armed with a 2 ft long iron bar in one hand and a knife in the other, he became cornered by the two policemen from the pursuing vehicle. Red-faced, drunk, very angry and screaming death threats, a stand-off ensued which without TASER would have taken hours to resolve (remember, the public don’t like it when we pile mob-handed onto one man). The TASER crew arrived within a few seconds and red-dotted him in the chest.
Another miracle occurred. Right in front of the police officers eyes, a complete change in character. Weapons dropped, hands behind the back and a compliant arrest.
3. My own patrol officers end a siege without calling for tactical response units and bringing the whole town to a halt for hours by using TASER on a male who is clearly intent on cutting his own throat, while at the same time threatening t0 stab any police officer or paramedic who approaches him. All this in the isle of a busy local supermarket.
In this case, TASER was fired at the man. He was immediately incapacitated and arrested without any injury to anyone. In the past, this could have been another Kingsbury or it could have taken hours and hours of negotiation, maybe even a fatal shooting by police.”
His accounts also accord with the experience in the Metropolitan Police, where – in more limited circumstances – Tasers have been deployed, and reported through monitoring arrangements to the – shortly to be abolished – Metropolitan Police Authority: in these cases too often the appearance of the red dot on someone’s chest (indicating the laser sights of the Taser) has been sufficient to persuade someone otherwise presenting a risk to themselves, members of the public or police officers to calm down and relinquish their weapon.
Inspector Gadget concludes in typical – but telling – style:
“Refusing to let us have TASER in case we shoot the wrong person is like refusing to let us have cars in case we run someone over, boots in case we kick someone in the head or a first aid kit in case we give the wrong treatment. On my team we take the deployment of TASER very seriously. I haven’t even heard the team joke about it.”