By Andrew Petherbridge, Licensed Paralegal, Hull.
Worries about how police officers are using Tasers
As part of my role within Neil Hudgell Solicitors is to deal with claims that members of the public raise against actions taken by police officers, I was alerted by a colleague recently to concerns that have been brought up by the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the use of Tasers. These were introduced into this country eleven years ago, as a non-lethal alternative for firearms officers who were facing down dangerous suspects. Over a decade later, each force now has officers authorised to use them in a much wider range of situations.
James Dipple-Johnstone, the IPCC Commissioner, has confirmed that his organisation has major concerns about their use in “drive stun mode”. Here, the Taser is applied directly to the body and the trigger pulled. When you normally see demonstrations of the use of these devices on TV, it is from a distance and is firing probes at the target. While officers were not trained to use the drive stun option, they were still being shown that the option existed. This causes pain without incapacitating the target and is used in almost a fifth of all Taser incidents. The IPCC concluded that this was “purely a means of pain compliance”, which will surely raise the eyebrows (and probably hackles) of many.
The Association of Chief Police Officers responded by claiming that point-blank firing was sometimes necessary. Interestingly, some of the smaller forces throughout the land were the more likely to use these devices. Equally, in several cases, it is clear that instead of “compliance” it led to what has been called “further resistance” by the person who has been so tasered. ACPO claim that there are circumstances where this tactic should be used, citing an example where an officer might be attacked while reloading.
Last year, Tasers were deployed almost ten and an half thousand times in England and Wales alone. Over 150 complaints have been received about their use in individual cases last year, and around one and a half thousand since they were introduced. Tasers have, on occasions, also been used against children or people with a mental disorder.
It must be noted that the Taser is “a valuable tool” in helping police to manage difficult and challenging situations, but forces must do more to guard against its overuse. Police officers have a difficult job to do, and of course the majority do so without problems and are quite rightly respected by society. But, as in any walk of life there are some amongst their numbers (thankfully very few) whose actions can taint the reputation of the vast majority.
Working for a highly respected firm of personal injury solicitors, I regularly deal with people who feel they have valid claims for compensation because they have been subjected to unacceptable treatment in their dealings with the police. Like Mr Dipple-Johnstone and many others, I am alarmed by this increasing use of “a means of pain compliance” and hope that steps are quickly taken to overcome the potential issues outlined.