While most people accept their intended use on people threatening or engaging in serious violence, there are justified concerns over their ubiquity leading to increased, inappropriate and disproportionate use that could have damaging consequences on communities.
The catalog of reports detailing inappropriate use is already growing with the IPCC currently investigating, amongst others, a blind man who was tasered in the back after police mistook his white stick for a sword, a 17-year-old who was 'mistakenly' tasered as police responded to a burglary and a 58-year-old man suffering from Alzheimers who was tasered while being sectioned.
Statistics already show the disproportionate use of Tasers is prevalent after a series of FOI requests by the Guardian revealed that over recent years 60 per cent of taser victims were under thirty, 50 per cent were black and 30 per cent had mental ill health or emotional problems.
And between 2011 and 2012, before the current roll-out, there was a 100 per cent increase in their use by the Metropolitan Police. Stuart Chesterman, ACPO's lead on Tasers, has been clear that more Tasers means more use. This can only exasperate their inappropriate and disproportionate use.
However, it is not just the actual tasering of innocent people that is of concern. It is also their use as a compliance tool. As police statistics show, the vast majority of Tasers deployed are not actually fired. Senior officers proudly state their mere presence is enough to make a 'suspect' submit. This gives police a powerful tool to control members of the public thinking twice about following orders and it's not hard to imagine police being tempted to abuse that power to facilitate a search or to let a cocky youth know who's boss.
We can only speculate on the frustration and anger this level of control will induce, but if the misuse of stop-and-search contributed to the riots in 2011, what effects could the misuse of Tasers have in similar circumstances?
And all of this is before health and safety concerns have been addressed. Senior officers admit there is a greater risk to people of small stature and those with heart conditions, but have not altered their operational guidance. Furthermore there is serious risk of head injury with victims falling over unable to break their fall due to the paralysing effect.
In the US more than 500 people have died after being tasered. A 27-year-old high on drugs recently died in Cumbria after he was tasered four times in a minute. However officers say such deaths are not due to the Taser blaming it on the drugs instead. The same has happened where victims have had existing heart problems and awkward falls.
The decision to roll-out Tasers across London was unilaterally taken by the Mayor and Police Commissioner with no independent consultation to consider their implications. A judicial review has since been launched. Meanwhile there is no obligation on local forces to publish Taser use making it difficult to monitor its use and any subsequent injuries.
Sadie King, of Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, said: “We are concerned that some of the most vulnerable young people who are being pushed into more extreme levels of poverty by the welfare reforms will become the victims of police tasers. As a social housing resident I have seen firsthand the punitive and even sadistic police behaviour towards young people. I am not alone in the fear that tasers will be used as instruments of torture. Tasers wont reduce gun and knife crime, they will just put us on the path towards increased violence on the streets.”
SCHY is holding a public meeting in Hackney, London, to raise awareness of the issues and start the debate. Speakers will include: Sophie Khan, a solicitor and director of the Police Action Centre, Juney Muhammad, a mental health professional, Gary McFaralne, Tottenham Defence Campaign, and Dean Ryan, trade unionist and youth advocate.
Please join us. If you have or know someone who has been Tasered please come and contribute to the discussion.
Taser use in London 2012 (Average 18x per borough): The recent roll-out of Tasers began borough-by-borough in July 2012 and will be completed in June 2013.
Most: Enfield 74x, Lambeth 40x, Barking & Dag 39x, Harrow 32x, Kingston 32x, Lewisham 31x,
Least: Richmond 0, Havering 0, Greenwich 1, Ken & Chel 2, Ealin 3x, Ham & Fulham 3x,
YoY increase: Kingston 1,500%, Bark & Dag 680%, Harrow 540%, Enfield 516%, Newham 425%