1 Dec 2011

Huge rise in police taser firings

Channel 4 News has uncovered a dramatic rise in the number of times police have fired controversial Taser weapons. Morland Sanders reports.

Hold the Taser X26 and the first thing that strikes you is the tiny dimensions and light weight, it feels almost like a child’s stocking-filler with shiny yellow plastic and built in torch. Clip on a charge to the front though and this device would assume its true potential.The ability to stop virtually any individual in any circumstances through incapacitating electric shock.

It’s a US invention that’s now a common sight on the belts of police officers up and down the country, working initially with a laser pointer gaining target accuracy, pull the trigger and the sequence goes something like this: 50,000 volts, metal barbs, pain.

Channel 4 News has produced the first national picture on Taser firing for many months and it tells a story of dramatic rises.

Take Greater Manchester Police for example, their X26 firing increased by 170% in the last financial year from 56 to 152. But other smaller forces recorded even higher percentage jumps, South Yorkshire 450% and in Suffolk they posted an 800% rise.

Read more: The inside story, Taser firings map 

Overall of the 40 forces, among the 43 in England and Wales, replying to our requests the average force increase was 136%.

Taser firing by UK police rises sharply

Sophie Khan, a Solicitor Advocate at GT Stewart, represents clients who claim they’ve been unfairly Tasered by the police:

“It is very much the officer thinking this is something new they can use and without any kind of risk of consequences calculation by that officer just deploying it because he can and that’s the only thing he can do.”

The police deny any allegation that officers have become Taser trigger-happy pointing out that while there have been some large percentage increases in discharges the actual numbers remain very low. However, it’s irrefutable more officers are now pulling the trigger, the question is why?

“Is this evidence of police officers using the X26 as a method of compliance?” I asked Simon Chesterman ACC , the Taser lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers. He responded: “There may be individual cases where that may be the case, this isn’t just about gaining compliance this is about arresting someone or bringing them under control whilst causing the minimal injury before teaser was introduced that person may have been battoned across the legs which could’ve caused more lasting injuries than neccesaily the taser will.”

ACPO admitted to Channel 4 News the Taser isn’t completely safe and yet doesn’t see any further need to tighten guidelines on their use, saying ultimately it’s down to individual forces. They did however say that ACPO advice was constantly reviewed and that the figures uncovered by Channel 4 News would be fed into that process.