The Police Federation, committed to the right of any constable to be trained and armed with Taser, launched a survey last month into officer views on these stun guns. This rank and file organization cites a recent Ipsos Mori poll, claiming “71% of respondents consider it acceptable for police officer to carry Taser when on patrol.”
Opponents of the tendency of police officers – citizens in uniform – to resemble RoboCop, have a coup in the case of Judah Adunbi, the 63-year-old grandfather tasered in the face just over a week ago. Imagine the red faces and swiveling eyes at Avon and Somerset constabulary’s senior management, press & PR teams, faced with headlines along the lines of:
Bristol Police Taser their own Black Race Relations Adviser in case of Mistaken Identity.
Adunbi was a founding member of Bristol’s Independent Advisory Group, a forum for fostering co-operation between the Afro-Caribbean community and local coppers.
Stopped on the street by two police officers, Adunbi was told he was under arrest. According to Adunbi, this was the second time he has been mistaken for a drug dealer. A neighbour filming can be heard criticizing the constables for intensifying the incident.
Support also came from Nick Glynn, a black man who served on the thin blue line for 31 years:
Confronting an individual based on a vague description and using a weapon that can kill is neither an acceptable nor effective method of policing. This shocking footage of police officers tasering a black man on the basis of mistaken identity only serves to alienate people who could be helping officers with their inquiries. It is particularly disturbing to see officers target a man who is dedicated to supporting the police and keeping everyone safe.
Vince Howard, speaking on behalf of the local Police Federation, defended his colleagues:
Officers try to de-escalate the situation by explaining who they are looking for and their belief that he is the wanted man. At no time during the interactions between the officers and this man does he say he is not the wanted person, he simply continues to be abusive towards the officer. The two officers then arrest the man, during which time one of the officers is assaulted and Taser is deployed. The officers were doing what the public expect of them, attempting to detain a wanted and potentially dangerous man.
As to what actually happened will be revealed by an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation; Avon and Somerset police referred the case, in accordance with procedure, to the IPCC. Both officers were wearing body cameras.
The Adunbi affair is bound to reignite concerns by civil liberies, community relations and social justice groups about police use of tasers. Back in 2015, a Freedom of Information request submitted by the BBC to the Home Office revealed that black people were three times as likely to be tasered than their white counterparts. Forming only 4.4% of the population, black people were on the receiving end of 12.7% of Taser incidents. Though Asians, accounting for 8.1% of the population, were only involved in 4% of episodes.
Who May Carry a Taser?
The Taser X26 model, a yellow pistol shaped gun, discharges up to 50,000 volts at 0.0021 amps to a target at a maximum distance of 21 feet. Introduced to firearms officers in England and Wales in 2004, Taser use was extended to specially trained constables four years later. Policemen and women must undergo 18 hours of training over 3 days before being issued with a Taser, a 6 hour refresher course must be attended annually. According to National Police Chiefs’ Council guidelines:
Every chief constable makes a decision, based on an assessment of the risks in their own area, to train and deploy a proportionate number of officers to use Taser so that the public are kept safe and their officers are protected as far as possible.
How effective are Tasers?
Deterrence is the chief value of the Taser. An action must be recorded every time an officer draws a Taser. Home Office figures show that that Tasers are only fired at a target 20% of the time. While the number of taser actions increased from 6,649 to 10,380 between 2010 and 2013, the latter year was the first time all 43 constabularies across England and Wales issued full Taser returns to the Home Office. Despite concerns over “mission creep”, that Tasers will be used because they are available rather than necessary, that they are no longer a means of last resort. Taser firings stabilized at an average of 1,732 incidents 2013-15.
What about the consequences of being Tasered?
Last year the High Court, at the request of the IPCC, overturned an IPCC report clearing Greater Manchester Police of any wrongdoing in the death of Jordan Begley in 2013. The police were called by Begley’s mother to their house in Gorton, Manchester, she claimed he had a knife and feared for him getting into a fight. 23-year-old Begley, an ice-cream worker and known piss-and-coke-head, was tasered and died two hours later. Two years later, a jury found that Taser use and subsequent police restraint techniques contributed to Begley’s untimely death.
However, it would be imprudent to ignore a review of Taser use by the British Medical Journal in 2010:
The medical consequences of these discharges include barb injuries, localised discharge burns, and injury from falls or from the intense muscle contraction. Eye and brain injuries from barb penetration have been documented. Tonic-clonic seizure [often associated with epilepsy] after discharge of a conducted energy device to the head has been described. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung) after pleural barb penetration has been reported. Six fatal head injuries may have resulted from falls induced by these devices. Discharge of a conducted energy device does not induce clinically relevant changes in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiratory related parameters in healthy subjects. Reports in the medical literature of serious injuries associated with the deployment of Tasers are few, despite several hundred thousand estimated uses of the device.
I have no problem with the principle of police officers carrying Tasers. It is questionable as to whether this weapon should be issued to all constables. Advice by the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Taser use is vague:
Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public. In certain circumstances, the use of Taser is more appropriate than other use of force options in resolving dangerous situations safely and with less risk of serious injury. In addition, officers who are trained and equipped with Taser must decide on the most reasonable and necessary use of force in the circumstances. The level of force used must be proportionate to achieve the objective and officers are individually accountable in law for the amount of force they use on a person.
Will both the police and public benefit from more RoboCop?
- John Aston, “Report Clearing Police over Taser Death of Jordan Begley Overturned by High Court”, Manchester Evening News, 25 November 2016 http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/report-clearing-police-over-death-12230275
- Tristan Cork, “Police Taser Incident in Bristol Leads to Renewed Calls for Government Review of Weapon’s Use”, Bristol Post, 20 January 2017 http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/police-taser-incident-in-bristol-leads-to-renewed-calls-for-government-review-of-weapon-s-use/story-30074347-detail/story.html
- Home Office, Police Use of Taser Statistics, England and Wales: 1 January to 31 December 2015, 28 April 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/police-use-of-taser-statistics-england-and-wales-1-january-to-31-december-2015-data-tables
- ITV Report, “Tasered Grandfather: ‘Why I Didn’t Give Police My Name”, http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2017-01-20/tasered-grandfather-why-i-didnt-give-police-my-name/
- Leroy Logan, “Giving All Officers Tasers will lead to the Militarization of the Police”, Guardian, 11 February 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/11/police-officers-tasers-militarisation-police-federation
- Terry McGuinness, “Taser Use in England and Wales”, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, no. 7701, 12 September 2016 http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7701
- Steven Morris, “Police Taser their own Race Relations Officer in Bristol”, Guardian, 20 January 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/20/police-taser-race-relations-adviser-bristol-judah-adunbi
- _______ “Police Who Tasered Race Adviser were ‘Doing what Public Expect of Them'”, Guardian, 23 January 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/23/police-who-tasered-race-adviser-were-doing-what-public-expect-of-them
- National Police Chiefs’ Council, “ACPO Questions and Answers on Taser”, January 2015 http://www.npcc.police.uk/ThePoliceChiefsBlog/201410TaserBlog.aspx
- Police Federation, “National Taser Survey for Serving Officers”, 15 December 2016 http://polfed.org/newsroom/3882.aspx
- Danny Shaw, “Black People ‘Three More Times Likely’ to be Tasered”, BBC News, 13 October 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34511532
- Richard Wheatstone, “Criminal Gangs put £50,000 Bounty on the Heads of Armed Cops, Police Claim”, Daily Mirror, 9 December 2014 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/criminal-gangs-put-50000-bounty-4773802
- Will Worley, “Bristol Police Taser their own Black Race Relations Adviser after Mistaking Him for Wanted Man”, Independent, 20 January 2017 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/bristol-police-taser-black-race-relations-adviser-mistaken-identity-a7536951.html
- “Jordan Begley: Taser Death Inquest Jury Retires”, BBC News, 2 July 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-33364639