Posted: Tuesday 19th July 2016
Readers have probably heard of Tasers. They’ve become part of the police vocabulary, along with police dogs, ‘Panda cars’, batons, ‘kettling’, PCSOs etc. They sometimes hit the headlines, usually when a person has become injured after Taser use. But what do we, the local people of Avon and Somerset really know about them?
As with the considerably more impactful cousin, firearms, Taser use can be controversial. So the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has set up a small independent scrutiny group of residents to read through a sample of ‘Taser cases’ carried out recently, and provide observations on the proportionality of Taser deployment in each case.
The Taser group comprises four local citizens, two of whom sit on police Independent Advisory Groups (IAGs) and two who sit on the PCC’s Independent Residents’ Panel. The group met for the first time on 28th June, and I was privileged to Chair the session.
Introductions over and suitably refreshed with copious amounts of tea and coffee, we were splendidly informed over an hour and a half about everything we would want or need to know. Karl Waltho, Police Lead Trainer and all-round Taser expert gave us hard facts and useful stories about the hows, whys, whens that a Taser can be deployed.
We learnt, amongst so many other nuggets of essential information, that Tasers were only introduced to UK forces in 2004, and only extensively since 2008. Taser deployment is available to all police constables with more than two years’ service (no need to be a firearms trained officer), but to become an authorised Taser user requires a good reference from the local team Inspector, excellent conduct and character record, and three days of intensive training on law, procedures, how a Taser works, and most importantly, ‘situational awareness’. This essential component means that each and every case must be judged on what is happening in real time as well as what might be known about an individual, before the Taser can be aimed or subsequently fired. Not all officers complete this course.
We asked lots of questions, from the technicalities of how Tasers work through clothing to finding out if Tasers are used at Glastonbury (answer ‘yes’, if the situation requires). I expect we will have more questions in the future. We also learnt that a Taser discharge cannot kill - serious injury or death (which is very very rare) results from falls or associated conditions making the situational awareness component of the decision so vital.
Then, feeling a little more expert in all Taser deployment matters, we looked at a sample of cases. These were selected randomly, but the selection ensured that Taser deployment from all parts of Avon and Somerset, and a mix of ‘red dot’ and ‘discharge’ usage would be reviewed.
Due to the dedicated learning time, we completed fewer reviews than expected in the future. Yes, there is a future as the group will reconvene in December for another review session and thereafter we aim to meet six monthly. Taser scrutiny is here to stay in Avon and Somerset.
Importantly our findings, and the police response, will be published on the PCC’s website as soon as the report is completed. We do hope you will read it.
Taser Scrutiny Group Chair