TASER USE: Police facing violent and threatening situations
Police in Merseyside facing ‘violent and threatening situations’ on a daily basis drew tasers more than 300 times in a year, figures show.
But the electric shock weapons were only discharged 29 times.
In a report published recently, the Independent Office for Police Conduct raised serious concerns around the unnecessary or unsafe use of the devices by forces across England and Wales, particularly against non-white or vulnerable people and children.
The report from the police watchdog made 17 recommendations to bodies including the Home Office, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council calling for improvements to the national guidance, training, scrutiny and monitoring of taser use.
The latest Home Office data shows that Merseyside Police drew tasers 338 times in the year to March 2020, though officers only discharged the electric shock weapons on 29 occasions.
The figures count the number of times officers involved in an incident used their taser rather than the number of separate incidents.
Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi, the NPCC’s lead for less lethal weapons, said that tasers were critical in protecting both officers and the public facing violent situations.
She acknowledged improvements could be made but said officers were already well scrutinised when it came to using reasonable force, adding: “Policing is not easy and in many violent situations I believe taser is a viable less lethal option for officers between using a baton and the lethal force of a gun.
“Officers are well trained to use the reasonable force given to them in law to confront the violence or threat of violence they are faced with when they protect the public and themselves.”
The IOPC report warned that police risked losing public confidence if concerns around taser use were not thoroughly addressed.
IOPC director Michael Lockwood said forces must be able to justify the circumstances in which tasers are deployed and must respond to a national disproportionality in use against black people.
Across England and Wales, black people were eight times more likely to be subject to use of taser than white people in 2019-20, according to the IOPC report.
Where ethnicity was recorded, the figures for Merseyside Police show that white people were involved in 308 incidents of taser use over the same period, compared to 17 involving black people.
In six cases, no ethnicity was recorded.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing are carrying out a review to understand and tackle the racial disproportionalities in taser use nationally.
Ms D’Orsi said the work would remain a policing priority.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, of human rights campaign group Amnesty International, said: “The police have a disturbing track record of disproportionately using tasers against black people and those in mental distress.
“In some circumstances, tasers can be effective if used by well-trained officers to prevent loss of life or serious injury but they’re open to misuse and over-use.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our police officers must be equipped with the resources, tools and powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe – including taser.
“Officers in England and Wales pass one of the most comprehensive training programmes in the world before being authorised with a taser.
“In 86% of cases where a taser is drawn, it is not discharged, demonstrating its impact as a powerful deterrent that de-escalates dangerous situations.”
Merseyside Police has issued a statement on the matter.
Assistant chief constable Rob Carden said: “We have received this report and its recommendations and will, as ever, be fully reflecting and reviewing them, alongside our ongoing work in this area.
“The first thing to highlight is that our officers confront violent and threatening situations on a daily basis across Merseyside. We’re extremely proud of the bravery and the swift and effective decision-making they demonstrate when protecting our communities and themselves from these, often life-threatening, risks.
“Officers across the force are extremely well trained in the use of taser, which we know remains a viable option when dealing with certain violent and dangerous incidents. That said, the actual discharge of a taser is a rare occurrence on Merseyside, averaging between two and four times per month.
“Between July 2020 and June 2021, taser was used on 608 occasions, the vast majority of which were officers drawing or pointing the weapon to deter or de-escalate the threat. Of these, only 33 discharges were recorded in total (5.4 per cent), which is less than half of the national average. This data shows a high level of training and knowledge in using taser appropriately, and indeed shows that the mere presence of a taser in an officer’s hand can and is a huge deterrent.
“Since the previous year, we have seen an increase of 14 per cent in discharges and 73 per cent increase in the overall use of taser, again where the taser has been produced but not discharged. This increase correlates with a Home Office-funded taser uplift, where we are equipping more frontline staff with taser to better protect and prepare them for such incidents. Given that our officers are also increasingly likely to be assaulted in the course of their duties, providing sufficient training and equipment is vital in keeping them and our communities safe.
“We are not complacent in ways we can improve the monitoring, review and appropriate use of taser across the force, and we’re continually seeking to improve. We regularly review and quality assure how we use taser, including every use on under 18s and in a mental health setting, to ensure vulnerable people are protected. Additionally, we comply with the National Training Curriculum and by September will only being deploying tasers with an automatic shut off, as a result of Home Office recommendations.
“Scrutiny and transparency is key to maintaining and improving relationships and trust with the communities we serve, and we’re pleased to show a reduction of disproportionality in taser usage. On Merseyside, recent data from the last 12 months shows that a black person is proportionately 2.5 times more likely to be subject to the use of taser than white people (only one of which was a taser discharge). This represents an overall decrease from 4.5 times as likely in the previous 12 months. BME people are as less likely than a white person to be subject to the use of taser.
“Whilst this compares well with the national figures and is an improving picture, we remain absolutely committed to responding to all community concerns in this area. We have developed community scrutiny panels, made up of members of our communities, to ensure we are using all of our powers in the most effective and legitimate way, while identifying any disproportionality and any causes for concern. Our Scrutiny Panel has recently been redesigned, and we now show Body Worn Camera footage and welcome the participation of people who wish to be involved. This panel is chaired by a member of Merseyside Independent Advisory Group (MIAG). Panel members can give anonymous feedback on any matters raised, and we update on any outcomes and changes to our practice.
“Taser is a valuable tool in preventing crime, safeguarding communities and targeting those involved in criminality. We will continue to check, review and balance how we do this, while engaging and explaining to our communities how and why it is used.”
Words: Aran Dhillon, Local Democracy Reporter
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