Big debate: should Tasers be issued to police officers?
14:23 07 February 2013
Police officers across London are being given Tasers. However, concerns have been raised about the guns’ potential risk following several fatalities, as well as fears they could be used against vulnerable people who may be in crisis and acting violently because of mental health problems
Ch Insp Mick Sanderson, who is overseeing the introduction of Tazers to Tower Hamlets:
The decision to issue Tasers (which is the trade name of the company that makes them) to a limited number of specially trained officers based in Tower Hamlets was taken at a very senior level.
It follows a high profile case where offices were injured in a violent attack that could have been prevented if they were issued with a Tazer. It is an important point to remember that when an officer is injured they are unable to protect the public.
The benefits for the police and public are substantial. It will only be used in appropriate circumstances and it is worth asking yourself what would be the alternative? If a deranged man is running amuck with a kitchen knife then the police must deal with the situation and a Taser may provide the best means to incapacitate the suspect long enough to be disarmed and arrested.
The officers who are issued with them go on a three day training course and must justify their use. Sometimes people may exaggerate the effects of being incapacitated with a Taser which is why each unit has a memory card that tells an investigating team exactly when it was used and how long for.
I am trained in Taser use and have no doubt Tower Hamlets will be a safer place when they are deployed in February. Naturally there will be public anxiety as this is something new but once people understand the benefits they may have a greater concern if they were told the Taser was not going to be deployed.
Beth Murphy, head of information at mental health charity Mind:
People who are in distress, whose mental health problems have escalated and may be behaving violently, or present a risk of harm to themselves or others, is a serious issue.
We have to balance the rights and needs of the person in crisis with those to protect people at risk.
Police are commonly called to intervene when someone is in crisis, so it’s essential they have resources to handle the situation well.
Tasers aren’t the absolute last resort, but were brought in as a “less lethal option alongside conventional firearms”.
For this reason, Mind believes they should be treated as a last resort and every effort must be made to avoid using a Taser on someone in a vulnerable state.
Our concern is that as Taser use becomes widespread, with new powers in places like Tower Hamlets, their use to “calm” people with mental health problems will increase.
Tasers carry with them a risk of serious injury and even death so the consequences of use can be severe. There is no substitute for mental health training to help police officers better recognise people in crisis.
Negotiation and techniques should be used in every case in an effort to calm a situation down.
When you are in crisis, your mind is in meltdown. You need help, compassion and understanding and to be made safe, not shot with 50,000 volts of electricity.