On the 27th of March 2014 the UK Home Office released police TASER use statistics for England and Wales in 2013. I have made the statistics available in a spreadsheet
2013 saw four forces issue TASERs to non-firearms officers for the first time. These forces were Cambridgeshire, Essex, Sussex and Thames Valley. All UK police forces now give TASER weapons to some officers outside of specialist firearms units.
TASER use in Sussex increased dramatically following the wider deployment of TASER; from 30 deployments in 2012 to 164 in 2013; an increase of 447%.
Chief Superintendent Paul Morrison of Sussex and Surrey Police told BBC South East Today on the 8th of April 2014:
Last year we increased the number of TASER officers away from just firearms officers to 163 front line staff and that would account for the 447% increase you will have seen in the use of TASER. Our view is we will issue it to those officers we think are necessary in order to deliver a good service to the public.
I was invited to comment.
I noted the police explanation for the increased use, while commendably honest, was worrying. The police are saying the increased use of TASER is an inevitable consequence of more officers being armed with the weapons.
The police are not saying violent crime has increased, or the type of incidents they are responding to have changed. What has changed is the police response it’s now more likely that a police officer armed with a TASER will turn up at an incident, and it is more likely they will use that TASER.
Deciding to arm more front line officers with TASER weapons is a significant strategic decision, with substantial impact on the face of frontline policing in Sussex. It is a decision I would expect to be taken by the Police and Crime Commissioner, yet Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne’s decision log does not record such a decision.
TASER use is dangerous and risky. A TASER’s barbs are designed to penetrate the skin and they alone have the potential to cause serious injury, particularly if they hit you in a vulnerable place, such as the eyes. When the electric current is applied you lose all voluntary control over your muscles; you are not able to control how you fall to the ground. If you hit your head as you fall is a matter of luck.
I want to see our police using force proportionately. I think those officers armed with conventional firearms ought be given TASER weapons as an alternative, but don’t want to see every police officer armed with TASER. I’m concerned that the police are increasing the amount of force they are routinely using by carrying and using TASERs.
There is a tradition of policing by consent, rather than by force, in the UK and that is something I value greatly. Policing by consent is easier, cheaper, safer and less violent than the alternative, which I fear we are moving towards, of more policing by force. I think increased use of TASER risks escalating the level of violence police officers will encounter. I’m also concerned about the impact on police / public relations if officers are routinely armed with TASERs.
I gave a TV interview with about ten minutes of material, during which I said most of the above; and from which they selected the twenty second clip to use.
I did think at one point they were asking me about Essex, rather than Sussex. If I get interviewed by a regional TV station again I’ll research which area they cover so I’m better prepared.