Cambridgeshire Police Authority Dodge my TASER Questions


Saturday, May 2nd, 2009. 2:04am

don't taser me

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.

Answer

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.

2 comments/updates on “Cambridgeshire Police Authority Dodge my TASER Questions

  1. Richard Article author

    The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) have announced that all TASER related complaints are to be automatically referred to them from June 2009.

    The problem regarding the “Specially Trained Unit” terminology is clearly shown by an article in today’s telegraph responding to the IPCC announcement which states:

    The guns can now be used by specially trained firearms officers rather than just firearms officers.

    This implies TASERs are being limited to a smaller group within the police. In fact the weapons have been deployed to a wider group of officers, they can now be used by non-firearms officers who have been trained in their use. There is clearly confusion, arising from unclear evasive statements by the Police and Home Office

  2. Richard Article author

    The report to the meeting on the 13th of May 2009 is now available online. It reveals that while Cambridgeshire police have accepted 150 TASERs for non-firearms officers are yet to start considering if they ought actually use them. It is amazing that given the Home Secretary made her announcement in November the Cambridgeshire police authority are only now starting to consider addressing the issues raised.

    The report states:

    The Constabulary also fully recognises the differing views about the use of Taser both inside and outside of the organisation, and as a consequence will not further deploy any Tasers to Officers beyond those with existing training undertaken in parallel to their firearms training, until a full policy review has been completed including internal and external consultation.

    The report also reveals the Cambridgeshire Police don’t yet have a definition of which officers are to be issued with these weapons. ie. their definition of “Specially Trained Unit” has not been devised yet. The report states:

    The Constabulary needs to undertake further consideration in relation to the Officers to be identified and the exact training required.

    The report also states:

    The training associated with the use of Taser has been restricted to authorised Firearms Officers, although the Taser training is completely separate to the training necessary for the accreditation for the use of firearms.

    I do not agree with the implication which could be drawn that the desirable skill set for safe TASER use is completely separate to that required for using firearms. I would suggest experience of use of firearms, both of the decision making processes and experience of handling potentially violent situations would be directly applicable to TASER use.

    It would be interesting to know how many of the TASER weapons the Home Secretary has managed to get police forces to take are actually available for use by non-firearms police. The headline figure of the number TASERs issued could be significantly misleading if those forces which have taken them have not actually decided to use them.

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