On Wednesday the 29th of April 2009 I attended a meeting of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority. Members of the public are able to submit questions in advance. I asked about the increased deployment of TASER weapons.
My Question – TASER
Why has the expanded deployment of TASER to all response police officers announced by the Home Secretary in November 2008 still not been discussed at a full meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority? Within hours of the ministerial announcement the Metropolitan Police Authority decided not to extend TASER use to all front line response officers in London on the grounds that they may cause fear and damage public confidence. Why was Cambridgeshire Police Authority not in a position to respond as rapidly and effectively?
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has said “Clearly, the number of Tasers that a force has is not dictated centrally. It is a matter for individual chief constables, with their authorities, to determine what they should have”. In light of that: what role did the Police Authority have in determining how many TASERs, for non-firearms police, Cambridgeshire would take from those being offered by the Home Office?
Mr Wilkins, a of the authority, had assured Cambridge City Council’s North Area committee he would ensure that TASERs were discussed at a full meeting of the authority. Why has he evidently been unable to fulfill his commitment? He has reported that a paper on TASERs would be brought to a meeting of the Police Authority. When is this now due? Why was it not on the December 2008 or February 2009 agendas? Why is it not on today’s agenda?
How many hours training does a non-firearms officer have with TASER before being issued with the weapon? Cambridgeshire’s police have used the term “Specially Trained Unit” to describe those non-firearms officers to be issued with TASER. What is a Specially Trained Unit in Cambridgeshire; is it a typical, individual officer who has been given a few hours training?
I support police firearms units having access to TASER weapons which they can elect to use as an alternative to firearms in circumstances where they would otherwise use firearms. I would prefer to be shot with a TASER than with a gun. However I do not want to live in a country where more police officers than necessary are routinely armed with TASERs. I believe any expansion of TASER use would be damaging to the relationship between the public and the police.
Currently the use of TASERs is restricted to Fire Arms Officers. The Constabulary provided a report to Police Authority Professional Standards Committee meeting on 12 Feb 2009 regarding proposed future use of TASERs and this is available on the Authority’s web site. This set out the Force’s plan to deploy TASER devices to appropriately trained officers, not all front line response officers.
Recognizing that there is scope for public concern the Authority is monitoring the introduction TASER devices. The Constabulary has been asked to provide a further update on future TASER deployment to the Professional Standards Committee at its next meeting on 13th May 2009. This update will provide an opportunity for the Authority to scrutinize the details of the action plan to extend the use of TASER devices including the appropriateness of training.
A report from the February and May Professional Standards Committees will go to the planned June 29th Police Authority meeting. The report from committees is not on this agenda for today, as this Police Authority meeting was called at late notice to deal with specific estate issues and a decision was made to maintain the original reporting timetable.
Response and Comments
I was able to speak very briefly to the authority, though technically I was limited to asking for clarifications to my answer.
I expressed my concern that Cambridgeshire Police Authority was going to take over six-months to react to the Home Secretary’s announcement of the increased TASER deployment whereas the Metropolitan Police Authority reacted within hours. I made it clear I wasn’t very impressed with that.
My answer does not tell me about the training for any non-firearms officers who will be armed with TASER. This point appears to have been avoided on the grounds that currently only firearms officers have TASER in Cambridgeshire at the moment. I asked if TASER deployment was going to continue to be limited to firearms officers and noted this contradicted the Home Secretary’s stated intent, and the press coverage, which had accompanied the additional deployment of TASER.
It is implied, but not made clear, that the Police Authority played no role at all in the force’s decision to accept the 150 weapons offered by the Home Office.
The (incredibly brief ) February report referred to in the answer can be read via this link. It uses the term “Specially Trained Unit” which I had asked about in my question, but I did not get an answer on.
I note there still is no date set for the full Police Authority to debate the expanded TASER deployment within Cambridgeshire.