6 The Use of Tasers|
66. In the light of Sir Paul Stephenson's suggestion
after the event that a review of the tactics and methods the police
use to police demonstrations is needed, including the possible
use of "distance weapons" like water cannons
this Chapter will also briefly examine the use of Conducted Energy
Devices (CEDs) (commonly known as "Tasers") while policing
public protest as a possibly less "confrontational"
and therefore safer tactic. We will first discuss the deployment
of Tasers to front-line officers and the circumstances in which
they should be used.
67. Tasers have been available to all firearms officers
since September 2004. In November 2008, the then Home Secretary
(Jacqui Smith MP) announced plans to widen the use of Tasers to
some front-line officers, following a twelve-month trial in ten
forces. These officers are "Specially Trained Units"
and must spend a minimum of 8 hours in initial training and attend
annual "refresher" courses for 6 hours. Taser are currently
authorised for use in operations or incidents where officers are
facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that the
use of force is needed to protect the public, themselves or the
subject. While we are not aware of any plans to extend the use
of Taser beyond this, we considered it useful to put our views
on the matter on the record.
68. Tasers are indeed a useful tool for the police,
and any equipment which may protect the police and the public
from harm is to be welcomed. It is pleasing that initial trials
suggest that in many cases the mere threat of a Taser, so-called
"red-dotting", is sufficient to remove the threat
and in certain situations, such as when dealing with violent drunks
for example, the use of Taser is preferable, and less dangerous
to the subject, than the use of a police ASP or baton.
69. While we are confident that the Taser is a useful
tool from the perspective of the police we remain wary of endorsing
its use on a more general basis for two reasons. Firstly, the
use of a Conducted Energy Device may pose a health risk to those
subjected to it. While there have been no recorded deaths attributed
to Taser in the UK, Amnesty International told us that nearly
350 people [have] died after being tasered in the USA and Canadian
where Taser is used far more routinely.
The risk to people with heart problems or similar health issues
is exponentially higher than with the use of an ASP. Amnesty
International argue that the use of Tasers should be limited to
situations where there is an imminent threat of death or serious
injury. In November 2008, the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed
concern that wider deployment of CED had the potential to cause
"fear" and "damage public confidence".
70. Tasers do have
a role in policing. As an "alternative to lethal force"
they are undoubtedly preferable to firearms and in certain situations,
ASP batons, in dealing with a violent threat to an officer, members
of the public or the subject themselves:
It [Taser] is specifically a weapon that is targeted
at an individual to bring him under effective control when he
is behaving extremely aggressively or violently.
We praise the efforts made to prevent the incorrect
use of Conducted Energy Devices and to prevent fatalities and
introduce accountability through measures such as the fitting
of data ports which record when the taser is fired.
We have no doubt that
the police are currently making every effort to prevent fatalities
through the incorrect use of a Conducted Energy Device.
decision to extend the deployment of Conducted Energy Devices
to some non-firearms officers, and the training they receive,
should be kept under review. The use of this weapon on a general
scale poses many issues regarding public safety and more widespread
use of Tasers would also represent a fundamental shift between
the police and the general public. British policing is based on
consent and face-to-face engagement, the use of Taser has the
potential to erode that relationship and create a rift between
the police and the policed. Furthermore, we would not endorse
any move to authorise its wider use beyond dealing with a violent
72. British policing is traditionally based on engagement
and policing with consent. British policing involves face-to-face
communication and negotiation, and this is particularly the case
when policing large-scale events. However, this doctrine in British
policing does contain one major drawback; not only, as at the
G20, can it lead to protesters and police being contained in close
proximity to each other for hours in a tense situation but:
We as a service come toe-to-toe far quicker, probably,
than any other police jurisdiction in the world
then mean that we put our officers and our specials and others
in that very invidious situation of being toe-to-toe with sometimes
a violent and antagonistic crowd, and then having to work out
who are the decent people and who are those that are trying to
attack me. 
73. This is obviously a difficulty which UK police
have to face and increases the stress and tension all officers,
but particularly those lacking experience, must face when policing
protest. In this context some have suggested that the police should
change their own guidelines and equip officers policing public
protests with Conducted Energy Devices which would reduce the
likelihood of the police being in close proximity with potentially
violent protesters and in turn lower the risk posed both to protesters
and police by creating a cordon sanitaire between the two
groups. This section briefly discusses this argument.
74. We have been told that in certain circumstances,
particularly those where what is required (as decided by a trained
officer) is an "alternative to lethal force"
the use of a Conducted Energy Device is an appropriate response.
However, while a Taser may be of value in specific circumstances,
these circumstances are limited, and are not those found in a
large public protest. The dangers of using a Taser weapon against
a crowd are that it is likely to be indiscriminate, because you
cannot target an individual;
the officer could be overpowered and the Taser taken from him,
Taser used in a crowded area could easily cause panic and in a
protest situation the cords of the Taser could easily be entangled
in the crowd preventing assistance reaching the victim. While
Taser is undoubtedly effective in the right circumstances its
presence at an already tense large-scale public protest would
merely increase the potential for injury and prove counter-productive.
75. We recommend
that the police continue their self-imposed ban on the use of
Taser in public protest situations. More generally we urge the
police to reject the use of "distance weapons" in policing
demonstrations. Instead of investment in expensive equipment to
give the police "distance" while policing large scale
protests, we suggest that the money could be better spent on training
for front-line officers and in the planning of operations, removing
the need for such "distance weapons".
74 "Police may use water cannon to control violent
demonstrations", The Times, 9 May 2009. Back
Jacqui Smith's Taser plan suffers blow after Met Police Authority's
rejection" The Times, 25 November 2008 Back