Responding to Cambridgeshire Police Plan to Issue TASER to Non-Firearms Officers


Wednesday, May 1st, 2013. 9:44am

On the morning of Wednesday the 1st of May I went on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with Paul Stainton to discuss Cambridgeshire Police’s roll out of TASER weapons to non-firearms officers including neighbourhood, traffic and response officers.

Presenter Paul Stainton reported Cambridgeshire’s Chief Constable Simon Parr had been invited on the show but had declined saying he did not know enough about the subject. Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner also failed to make himself available for interview.

I think it is appalling that neither of these senior figures who should be leading our police force in Cambridgeshire were prepared to publicly justify and defend their decision.

Transcript

Paul Stainton

Coming up this morning. We talk TASERs; set’um to stun.

Over a hundred more police on the streets of Cambridgeshire are set to stun.

Is it too much? Is it effectively arming the police? Is it a necessary evil though?

Police, do they need this protection? Your thoughts this morning; 0845 9252000 8133 on text, or should we go the whole hog and just put a gun in their holster?

[..trail for other news.]

It’s seven minutes past seven on your biggest breakfast show this morning and let’s talk TASER.

Cambridgeshire police are expanding the number of officers trained to use TASER weapons. Fifty five specialist firearms officers currently use TASER which emits an electric shock to temporarily stun and incapacitate offenders. Now a further one hundred and twenty officers, many of whom work in local policing, will be trained to use the TASER.

Richard Taylor is a Cambridge based blogger and an anti-TASER activist. Morning Richard.

Richard Taylor

Good morning Paul.

Paul Stainton

Well what’s wrong with keeping our policemen safe as they go about their duty?

Richard Taylor

I’ve got no problem at all with proportional policing. If I go to an airport, go to Heathrow, or to some of the mainline police stations in London I see armed police walking around. I’ve got no problem with police being armed in proportion to the threat that they and the public face or where the police decide it is appropriate to have some sort of show of force for deterrence reasons. But there’s no argument along those lines being put forward by the police today for arming neighbourhood police in Cambridgeshire with TASER weapons.

Paul Stainton

Do you see it as effectively arming the police in Cambridgeshire?

Richard Taylor

I’m certainly concerned we’re going along that road. We’re moving away from having policing by consent towards policing by force. I’m very concerned about how that is going to affect the relationship between the police and the public and how it might actually make policing Cambridgeshire much harder to do. If you’re going to go down the road of policing by force then perhaps our current thin blue line would not be sufficient to cope with that.

Paul Stainton

Well Paul Davis is with us as well, he’s a spokesperson on firearms for the Police Federation and a Cambridgeshire Police Officer. Morning Paul.

Paul Davis

Morning. Morning.

Paul Stainton

Why do so many officers in Cambridgeshire need a TASER?

Paul Davis

I wouldn’t say it’s so many, I think what the force have done is look at it in terms of their strategic threat and risk assessment and said actually fifty five isn’t enough, we cover a large geographical area, our officers face a risk on a daily basis, from members of the public, the types of incident our officers are going to, and they’ve looked at that in the round and said I think we need more TASERs to assist our officers.

Paul Stainton

And some officers I hear are having to go out on their own, is that part of the problem here?

Paul Davis

I think that with reduced resources, in terms of cuts in being made in policing the inevitability of that is more officers may find themselves being worked single crewed. That has an impact on that officer going out doing their daily business and it has to be right that we have to take that into account when we’re equipping those officers to go out on the streets.

Paul Stainton

So safety of the officers is paramount. But it is a step away, isn’t it, from arming the police?

Paul Davis

I don’t think so. I think it’s another menu of options for the officers, it enables them to deal with members of the public. In terms of .. let’s look at TASER, it’s a less lethal option for dealing with those individuals that don’t want to come peacefully.

Paul Stainton

There you go Richard, it’s a much easier option.

Richard Taylor

I think one of the things that was said there was this is about cuts and changes to the police force. I think that’s probably right. Our armed policing is now merged with neighbouring forces so the armed policing units might well be further away. Now I’d like to see TASER only with those units, but they need to be easily accessible.

I’d also ask who’s given the police the authority to do this? Where’s the political leadership? The Home Secretary hasn’t said that, the current Home Secretary hasn’t said she wants to see more police armed with TASERs and we haven’t heard anything from our Police and Crime Commissioner on this. Our Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright has just washed his hands of the issue saying it’s operational but I very strongly disagree with that. This is a strategic change for policing, it really changes the face of policing and the feel of policing and I think it’s absolutely scandalous that our Police and Crime Commissioner hasn’t personally taken the decision on this and he isn’t defending it this morning.

Paul Stainton

Paul, who’s made the decision?

Paul Davis

I think it’s quite right, operational decisions are made by the Chief Officer of that particular force area. It’s quite right there shouldn’t be any political interference with an operational policing decision.

Paul Stainton

When is a TASER deployed? What’s the reason for it? When would it come out?

Paul Davis

Serious threats to a member of the public or a police officer.

Paul Stainton

And that has obviously happened because you feel the need to arm another hundred?

Paul Davis

Well we’ve had another .. since 2011/12 we’ve has over a hundred and thirty officers in Cambridgeshire who have been subjected to an assault or a sort of what we call a near miss in the work place and that’s not acceptable. If TASER enables them the opportunity to deal with a member of the public, it creates distance between themselves and the individual to protect themselves and the member of the public that has to be right.

Paul Stainton

And what happens when you launch the TASER? How do they physically work?

Paul Davis

It affects the central nervous system. People always talk about the 50,000 volts, it’s about the amps, and the amps are really really really low. It’s nought point somethings. It affects the central nervous system and basically it disables the individual.

Paul Stainton

In some cases it does cause problems doesn’t it?

Paul Davis

It’s inevitable that aftercare is one of those things and officers have to react to whatever circumstances there are in dealing with that individual.

Paul Stainton

But I suppose if it incapacitates a criminal and keeps the public and police safe then surely Richard, that’s worth it, isn’t it?

Richard Taylor

Well Cambridgeshire Police have said this morning that TASERs don’t cause injuries* but when the barbs are fired into you that does cause an injury in itsself and then when you lose all voluntary control over your muscles you can’t control how you fall down and how you might hurt yourself when that happens. There are also questions about how TASER affects people who are ill, or on drugs, and police officers are not going to know the details about the person before they fire the TASER at them.

Of course I want the public and the police to be safe; that’s behind my argument as well, I want only the officers who are very well trained and experienced, the specialised firearms units, using these weapons. The reason I want to see that is to keep the public safe.

Paul Stainton

What do you suggest then if not TASERs. How do we keep public safe, how do we keep officers who might have to work in rural areas safe?

Richard Taylor

Well we focus on the British tradition of policing by consent; we keep a good relationship between the police and the public so the police and the public are working together. Where necessary, where there are areas of high violent crime, which no one is suggesting we have actually got in the neighbourhoods of Cambridge where we’re now going to see these TASER officers deployed than then you put in the appropriate resources where they are necessary; but we’re not seeing that kind of risk and threat assessment as the argument the police are using.

Essentially the police have all these TASERs in the cupboard and they’ve decided to hand them out to officers.

Paul Stainton

Is that the case Paul?

Paul Davis

I think Richard has made a good point there. They’re in a cupboard, not being used. But also I’ll put this to Richard, when was the last time he faced a person in anger?

Richard Taylor

I haven’t. But I think this is a question for society as a whole, it’s not just a question for the police. Now the police input is very valuable but we’ve all got to decide how we want our country policed and to what degree we want to see our police force armed.

Paul Stainton

What’s it like going up against somebody on your own Paul? Without a TASER

Paul Davis

It’s not very nice. It’s not very nice. At the end of the day we all do a very very difficult job protecting the public on a daily daily basis, you know I’ve been out of the operational field for about twelve years now and I still continue to see the stories of where officers are being injured. There was an incident yesterday in Manchester, two officers stabbed by an individual. Look at the incident outside Buckingham Palace, they used a TASER to stop somebody waving knives about where there were members of the public at risk. It has to be right that officers are given the right equipment to go out and deal with the ills of society.

Paul Stainton

Paul, thanks for coming on this morning. Paul Davis spokesperson on firearms for the Police Federation and a Cambridgeshire Police Officer and Richard Taylor a local blogger and anti-TASER activist. Where do you stand on it? 0845 9 25 2000 Should we give police every weapon we can in order to protect themselves and the public or are there some lines we should never cross?

We did invite Cambridgeshire Police Chief Constable Simon Parr to speak to us on the show this morning. He declined our request due to not knowing enough about the issue. We also invited the Police and Crime Commissioner Sir Graham Bright or his deputy onto the show but he’s at a conference and not able to speak to us either. A lead officer from Cambridgeshire Police on TASER is on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire later this afternoon.

What do you think?

* “There have not been been any injuries or medical problems as a result of using the stun guns on people,” from a BBC News article citing Cambridgeshire Police.

Handling of the News Release by Cambridgeshire Police

The debate, and articles in the local press, occurred before the details were posted on Cambridgeshire Police’s news webpage. The BBC published a story online on the 1st of May outlining the future intent of the force to arm 120 non-firearms officers with TASER, however this is not news, in January 2012 I wrote an article: 120 Non-Firearms Officers to be TASER Trained in Cambridgeshire following a report to a Police Authority committee.

On April 30 Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership was told an announcement of the date on which use of TASERs in Cambridge by neighbourhood police would “go live”. I wonder if the news the police intended to release on the 1st of May was that date, or perhaps even it has been suggested to me, the roll out may actually be occurring as of the 1st of May. Cambridgeshire Police, despite employing specialist communications staff, have made a complete hash of getting whatever message they were planning to get out, to the public of Cambridgeshire. I suspect perhaps they have been distracted from their core role in attempts to give the story to selected friendly members of the media first, perhaps in an attempt to create relationships with the press, seeking to reduce negative coverage, or even perhaps to try and improve the chances articles published only re-present the police position as others don’t have access to information on which to comment in detail.

On the morning of the 1st of May the Cambridge News and Peterborough Telegraph have published article suggesting the roll-out begins as of the 1st of May:

The Cambridgeshire Police News release just talks about future plans, it does not make clear the TASER roll out has begun.

Hopefully what has actually happened, or been announced, today will become clear.

7 comments/updates on “Responding to Cambridgeshire Police Plan to Issue TASER to Non-Firearms Officers

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I really liked the 8am news on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on the morning of the 1st of May 2013:

    Paul Stainton: The news at eight with Suzy Roberts…
    Suzy Roberts: Thanks Paul. A Cambridge based activist says Cambridgeshire Police’s decision to train 120 more officers to use TASERs is changing the focus of policing. Richard Taylor told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire it is moving away from policing by consent towards policing by force:

    The current Home Secretary hasn’t said she wants to see more police armed with TASERs and we haven’t heard anything from our Police and Crime Commissioner on this. Our Police and Crime Commissioner, Graham Bright, has just washed his hands of the issue saying it’s operational but I very strongly disagree with that. This is a strategic change for policing, it really changes the face of policing and the feel of policing and I think it’s absolutely scandalous that our Police and Crime Commissioner hasn’t personally taken the decision on this and he isn’t defending it this morning.

    Sir Graham Bright, the Police and Crime Commissioner was unable to comment on the matter on the show this morning.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Shortly after 8am on the 1st of May 2013 Cambridge MP Julian Huppert debated TASERs with Labour Police Spokesman Ed Murphy on the Paul Stainton Breakfast show:

    Paul Stainton: Now the big question this morning. Should more officers in Cambridgeshire be trained to use TASER weapons? The force currently has fifty five specialist firearms officers using TASERs. A further one hundred and twenty officers will now be given the training. The weapon emits an electric shock which temporarily stuns and incapacitates offenders.

    Earlier Paul Davis the national spokesman on firearms for the Police Federation and a Cambridgeshire Police Officer explained why TASERs were needed:

    What the force have done is look at it in terms of their strategic threat and risk assessment and said actually fifty five isn’t enough, we cover a large geographical area, our officers face a risk on a daily basis, from members of the public, the types of incident our officers are going to, and they’ve looked at that in the round and said I think we need more TASERs to assist our officers.

    That’s Paul Davis from Cambridgeshire Police, national spokesperson on firearms for the Police Federation.

    Cambridge based blogger Richard Taylor told us earlier that arming officers with TASER will lead to policing with force and is a dangerous tactic:

    I’m certainly concerned we’re going along that road. We’re moving away from having policing by consent towards policing by force. I’m very concerned about how that is going to affect the relationship between the police and the public and how it might actually make policing Cambridgeshire much harder to do. If you’re going to go down the road of policing by force then perhaps our current thin blue line would not be sufficient to cope with that.

    Well let’s speak to Julian Huppert, he’s Cambridge’s Lib Dem AP [MP surely!].

    Morning.

    Julian Huppert MP (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat): Good morning, how are you?

    Paul Stainton: I’m fine. Are you with or again[st] the use of TASERs?

    Julian Huppert MP : Well I think Richard is right that’s it’s a very alarming possibility. There’s a huge difference between firearms officers having TASERs and I’m quite happy to see them using TASERs instead of guns, I can see the benefits of that and non-firearms officers who should be part of our community policing approach. We know that TASERs can be dangerous, just in the last week we’ve had somebody in the UK who died after being shot with a TASER. It’s not common but it can happen.

    I worry about what message it sends to the public about how we ought to be interacting with our police.

    Paul Stainton: Surely it sends the message that we’re protecting our officers and protecting the public, aren’t we?

    Julian Huppert MP : No, I don’t think it does. This is the argument being used consistently in the US for why police there all carry guns. They make exactly the same arguments there and I don’t think it is a good thing. I don’t think it leads to good relationships between the police and the public and that makes it harder for the police in my view to do their jobs, which is to work with the public to prevent crimes from happening.

    Paul Stainton: Do we know when police are given the permission to take their TASERs out. When do they use them? When does the command come down? Is there a central command? Is it up to each individual officer?

    Julian Huppert MP : There are a whole series of protocols and rules put in place. I don’t think the police are doing this in a way designed to cause maximum problems but there are concerns about it. We have seen people across the country in recent years using illegal TASER weapons, there’s a company which brought in some which were not allowed to be used as well as a whole range of injuries and deaths as a result. There are certainly concerns about how they are being used already; and again it’s about the difference between firearms officers – where I’m very happy for them to use TASERs as an alternative, because they can be very effective, and this idea of gradually rolling them out more and more to police which is leading us towards the US style of policing and away from the idea of policing by consent.

    Paul Stainton: Stay there Julian we’ll come back to you. Ed Murphy is here as well, Peterborough City Councillor and the Labour group’s spokesperson on Policing issues. Labour of course approved the use of TASERs didn’t they?

    Ed Murphy (Labour): We did introduce tools and equipment for police officers for their protection.

    Paul Stainton: The right decision?

    Ed Murphy: Yes. It is the right decision. I’m not clear whether if the additional officers have already gone through the training in Cambridgeshire or not.

    Paul Stainton: “Will go through training” I think is the phrase.

    Ed Murphy: I’d like some further clarification on that.

    Paul Stainton: Well we’d have liked to speak on to the Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright on the show, we’d have liked to speak to the Chief Constable, but both declined our requests.

    Ed Murphy: I think one said he didn’t have the understanding to comment on the issue and the other is not available. I think things have already happened. We’ve had the tactical support units change, we’ve had the firearms units taken away from Peterborough and parts of Cambridgeshire and merged. I think what we may be getting is local policing teams, and the traffic cops, getting TASERs because they’ve taken away the other tools, the dogs and the armed response units. I’d like to see the dogs not cut and the traffic police not cut.

    Paul Stainton: Yeah, we did hear earlier that some of the cuts are possibly going on beats on their own. I’m not sure I’d want to be walking around at 2am in some parts of Fenland and parts in the north of the county or even the south, you’ve got to be a brave man to walk around without a TASER haven’t you?

    Ed Murphy: What we need to do is ensure we have adequate policing in the county of Cambridgeshire. I think the cuts have gone too far.

    Paul Stainton: Julian – this is the thing do you feel … Julian’s dropped off has he, oh we’ve lost Julian Huppert have we – we had a bit of a dodgy line.

    TASERs are often used as a threat; a red dot appears on an offender, they’re not that often used, they’re used just to calm people down.

    Ed Murphy: Well they have pepper sprays. One of the best tools the police service have is the dogs so it’s a shame they’ve been cut back. They were really effective.

    Paul Stainton: We do have Julian Huppert back now, we’ve got a better line. Morning Julian again.

    Julian Huppert MP : Hi. Sorry.

    Paul Stainton: Just going back to my earlier point there as well. I’m not sure if these cuts, we spoke to the representative of the Police Federation earlier, who said some of these cuts are going to lead to police officers sometimes on the beat on their own. I’m not sure I would fancy walking a beat around Cambridgeshire anywhere really on my own at midnight or two o’clock in the morning. I’d quite like a TASER in my pocket Julian?

    Julian Huppert MP : I think the risk is partly that if you start having more officers armed with things like TASERs then you will start to see other people armed with weapons. The whole principle of the British approach as been to try and de-weaponise. Not to have an escalating race between different sides. I’m really really worried that we’re taking that extra step towards weaponising our police officers and I really don’t think that would be a good thing to see.

    Paul Stainton: Ed?

    Ed Murphy: I think there is an issue about developing a policing culture of policing by force where the quick-cuffs are twisted on people etc. etc.

    Paul Stainton: But they’re not getting these out willy-nilly are they?

    Ed Murphy: I was just going to make the point the police in Cambridgeshire don’t do that. They enjoy the policing by consent principles but the cuts are really affecting them badly. My local policing panel – we decided our priorities for the next three months – the priority was the use of drugs in open spaces and shoplifting. So there are key issues for the police in Cambridgeshire, you don’t need TASERs to deal with that. We shouldn’t be cutting the armed response vehicles, we shouldn’t be losing the police dogs.

    Paul Stainton: Surely …

    Ed Murphy: I am pleased though officers in their training will have an eyesight test.

    Paul Stainton: Surely the big issue here though is Julian, if you don’t do anything wrong you’ve got nothing to be worried about have you?

    Julian Huppert MP : Well I think that’s a line which is used and abused far, far, too often. We’ve seen how that’s gone wrong with a lot of Labour’s anti-terrorism laws, and we’ve seen people arrested for taking photographs of police officers and all that sort of rubbish. I don’t think any of the individual officers in Cambridgeshire are saying what I’d really like to do is have more weapons so then we can be tougher and more macho. That’s not what they’re saying in the slightest. It’s just the way the culture goes, and we have to see police as part of that community once we start losing that we have huge problems.

    I’m really pleased that across the county we have crime going down. That is excellent. The focus for me has to be on working with communities to reduce the amount of crime that’s actually caused.

    Paul Stainton: You’re not getting a lot of love this morning Julian. A lot of people think you’re wrong, on texts, a lot of people think it is a good idea.

    Julian Huppert MP : I’m entirely relaxed about that. This is one I feel quite strongly about, that we need to have firearms officers with TASERs but otherwise the risk, as I said we had the death just last week after somebody was shot with a TASER, we’ve seen a number of cases where they have been used inappropriately. That’s a real worry for me.

    Ed Murphy: Julian, while I do share some of your views on civil liberties I do believe the police need to be protected and have the tools and you mentioned Labour and civil liberties, I think we need to be aware the Lib Dems have gone soft on crime and are not supporting the police service. Let’s talk about the real issues in Cambridgeshire, and in Cambridge City will the cyclists be getting TASERs?

    Paul Stainton: One at a time.. Julian

    Julian Huppert MP : Crime is down in Cambridgeshire. I’m absolutely delighted. I’m delighted that crime is particularly down in Cambridge. That is a great success. What people want is actually I think for crime not to happen. That’s the key test, whether you are soft on crime or hard on crime.

    Paul Stainton: Thank you very much gentlemen.Interesting debate. Ed Murphy, Labour councillor in Peterborough and Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridgeshire Julian Huppert.

    Your comments?

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    The following day I went on BBC Three Counties Radio to discuss the broader roll out of TASER across the wider region of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire as well as Cambridgeshire.

    I was on with ex Police Firearms Officer Roger Gray.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    An “Operational Update” from the Chief Constable to the Police and Crime Commissioner notes that in the first ten days of the extended roll out TASER been authorised seven times for non-firearms officers and used twice; it also notes there was one accidental discharge within a police station.

    The section on TASER, is section 7 of the report.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    According to Sgt Wragg of Cambridgeshire Police, responding to a question I asked at the North Area Committee on the 3rd of October 2013 TASERs are not being carried by local officers in North Cambridge:

    When the roll-out to local officers was announced there was no mention of excluding North Cambridge.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    I used the public speaking slot at the Community Safety Partnership to ask why North Cambridge’s Neighbourhood Police were not carrying TASER given the partnership has been told neighbourhood officers in the city are to carry the weapons.

    The written question I submitted stated:

    3. On the 30th of April 2013 the CSP was told by Chief Inspector Sloan that announcement of date from which neighbourhood officers would begin to be routinely armed with TASER weapons in Cambridge was “imminent”. The next day the Cambridge-News reported: “Beat officers now armed with Taser stun guns in Cambridge“.

    I’m concerned that the partnership didn’t get given the full details, and perhaps the police didn’t share their plans due to some kind of strategy for handling the media coverage. Had more information been shared by the police at the CSP meeting I think the media coverage might have ended up better informed. On the 1st of May there were different things being reported by different media outlets and neither the Chief Constable or Police and Crime Commissioner were commenting.

    I note on the 3rd of October 2013 Cambridgeshire Police told Cambridge’s North Area Committee that TASERs are not being carried by local officers in North Cambridge. This appears at odds with the statements made by the police to the CSP in December 2012 and April 2013.

    Nationally collated TASER use statistics no longer distinguish between uses by firearms and non-firearms officers.

    Police Inspector Poppit responded:

    Mr Taylor, just in relation to the first point Neil Sloan has asked me to recount this to you.

    Neil’s response is:

    The presentation to the CSP in December 2012 was intended to give the CSP a clear steer on the local deployment of TASERs to a small number of officers which does not extend to neighbourhood policing team officers as remarked in this question and was explained in the presentation.

    I’m not the force lead for TASER. My presentation in December focused on the local use, rather than force use.

    With regards to the end of the meeting as outlined I gave a local answer not as the force lead for this but locally. Apologies for any confusion caused.

    In relation to the North Area question. The local policing team under the command of Sgt Jason Wragg, the local neighbourhood officers if you like, as well as the PCSOs, those local neighbourhood officers don’t carry TASER. So the response is it is accurate and in that it only covers that very very small number of what are we describe as local officers.

    No other members of the partnership said anything on the subject. The partnership as a whole took no action in relation to the accuracy of police statements to the partnership ie. the accuracy of the police statements to our local councils, the fire service, the NHS, magistrates and others.

    The partnership did not renew its call for proactive publication of TASER use statistics within Cambridge; leaving this as something for each individual area committee to do (as the North Area Committee has) and request local reports.

    The distinction draw between “local” and “neighbourhood” police is interesting given the chief constable’s statements that an abolition of the “response” vs “neighbourhood” differenciation has been a key part of his “redesign” plan.

    I spoke to Cllr Ian Manning about the statement from Inspector Poppit. Cllr Manning noted that it was confusing to have both “local” and “neighbourhood” police officers and for those to be different groups of officers.

    The police news release from the day the roll out to non-firearms police began states:

    The additional officers, from local policing, the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) team and the Tactical Team will begin to carry them out on the streets

    The police are now saying “officers from local policing” has a different meaning to “neighbourhood police officers”.

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