One of the major stories on BBC South East Today on the 26th of June 2012 was on the call by the Police Federation (which represents police officers) for all front-line police officers to be armed with TASER weapons.
In addition, with fewer police officers available, there is also a greater risk to our members if they patrol alone. This risk has to be measured in the communities with which they serve, but we have a duty to equip those officers with the best safety equipment available.
The Police Federation therefore asks that you consider underwriting the cost and provision of Taser for every operational 24/7 duty police officer. There are currently 12,000 in all 43 forces in the country. We would like to see an amount that allows every officer to have one on patrol.
While only a couple of seconds of my comments made it onto the TV news, here on my website I’m able to expand further on my views, and what I said when interviewed:
While the views of police officers are important, decisions on the way our country is policed are for society as a whole. We all have to decide what kind of police force we want.
I am concerned that routine arming of all front-line police officers will significantly change how this country feels. I think there is a risk that the relationship between the police and the public will be damaged. We have a tradition of policing by consent, and not by force, and that I think is put at risk if we move further down the road towards a routinely armed police force. If the relationship between the police and public is damaged the country will become harder to police, and that will adversely impact everyone’s safety, the public’s and police officers’.
The Police Federation link their call for routine arming of officers with TASERs with officers patrolling alone; this argument was used to justify trials of issuing TASERs to non-firearms officers in rural areas, however TASERs are being used in city centres in situations where many police officers are present.
I fully support firearms officers having access to TASER to use as an alternative to a conventional firearm; it is the routine arming of patrolling and response officers which I oppose. I am concerned that increased deployment of TASER weapons will lead to an escalation in the amount of force used by the police in the UK, in areas, such as Devon and Cornwall, where we have seen non-firearms officers routinely armed with TASER, we have seen TASER use increase.
The BBC South East Today piece was generally excellent, but there were two points I think that are worth clarifying.
- The report states government will take the decision on arming front line officers with TASER or not. In fact this decision is being taken by police authorities at a local level around the country; as it stands the decision will be one for elected Police and Crime Commissioners. Personally I think it’s important that we have consistency in policing across the country, and don’t like the situation we already where while only firearms officers have TASER currently in the Met Police area and in Cambridgeshire, if I visit many other places in the UK the police are already routinely patrolling with TASER. Localism in policing is necessary, but I think it would be right for the government nationally to say we are not going to have officers routinely armed with TASER as they patrol, or respond to incidents, in the UK.
- The report to a small extent links the deployment of TASER with last summer’s riots. The riots were another matter raised in the Police Federation letter, but there was no link between the two. TASERs are not suited for use in public order situations, a position which has been expressed by a Home Office minister. In addition it is ACPO’s position that TASER should not be deployed in public order / protest situations. . Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Seventh Report: “Demonstrating respect for rights? A human rights approach to policing protest” has a section on TASERs which quotes a senior police officer saying:
TASER is such that it should not be deployed against large numbers of people and officers are trained to use other options when dealing with these situations
the report also quotes a minister’s view:
I cannot see a situation in which it would be appropriate to use TASER to control demonstration or protest.
The committee expressed its view on the subject stating:
We were pleased to hear the Minister’s and ACPO’s unequivocal statements that TASERs should not be used on protestors.