On the 7th of December Cambridge MP Julian Huppert and his fellow members of the Home Affairs Select Committee held a session on the police use of TASER weapons.
I wrote an article prior to the meeting in which I suggested a number of questions it might be worth asking of the Chief Police Officers and Home Office civil servants who appeared before the committee as witnesses.
Soon after the session I wrote an article focusing on one of the key revelations to emerge, that newly formed company Tactical Safety Responses Ltd. had been granted a UK TASER authorisation (to hold and distribute the weapons) despite the company having close links to the struck-off company Pro-Tect. The committee had been told that the new company’s only links to the previous, struck-off, company were staff who were technical experts in TASER who had transferred from the old company to the new; however spending £2 at Companies House revealed much closer links.
The exchanges relating to the companies authorised to deal in TASERs wre far from the only notable elements of the TASER session; others included:
Advice from TASER Manufacturer to Avoid Chest Shots
On the 12th of October 2009 Taser International, which makes the TASER weapons used by the UK Police, issued a training bulletin advising “avoiding chest shots” and stating “back shots remain the preferred area when practical”.
Mr Huppert asked if this advice had been disseminated to UK police officers trained to use TASER weapons and if ACPO guidance had been updated in light of the manufacturer’s bulletin.
Assistant Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, in his capacity as Association of Chief Police Officers’ “lead” on police use of firearms, told the committee that ACPO had the referred advice issued by Taser International on the 12th of October 2009 to the Defense Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) Sub Committee on the Medical implications of Less Lethal Weapons (DOMILL). Mr Chesterman reported DOMILL’s view was that:
“we don’t need to alter the point of aim in this country”.
Mr Huppert asked if the Home Office scientists before the committee had a view on chest shots. They said DOMILL didn’t consider changing the point of aim would increase the safety of TASER. The civil servants reported that DOMILL is shortly due to produce another in its series of “statements” on TASER safety in the future. This sixth statement will update the guidance.
For those following the official video this section is at about 12:28.
Shotgun TASER X12/XREP
Mr Huppert asked Home Office officials responsible for evaluating TASER devices about the TASER XREP (Shotgun cartridge TASER). Mr Huppert quoted TASER international’s website which states the weapon: “autonomously generates Neuro Muscular Incapacitation for 20 continuous seconds”. Mr Huppert noted this was very different from the standard UK police TASER which only delivers a current when the trigger is depressed, allowing the officer to stop once compliance is gained.
I found the response to this was very worrying. The civil servants reported the XREP can be programmed to shock the individual targeted for up to minute, but they are pre-selected for either 20-30 seconds. A future development being considered is making the XREP controllable by remote control.
A slight technical clarification was given about the operation of the normal police TASER too; in the UK police TASERs don’t stop shocking when the trigger is released, but there is a safety button which can be pressed which releases the trigger and stops the shocking.
Home Office civil servants said that while the safety of the TASER X26/M26 had been reviewed by DOMILL and they had the opportunity to make a “considered statement” on it, they were “not sure that was the case with the this [the XREP]“. Having described the process of review by DOMILL the committee was told: “clearly that process did not happen in the case of the XREP”.
The committee were told that the XREP worked on 500 volts, not 50,000 volts as the X26 does. The X26 TASER shock can jump a spark gap, ie. work if it is lodged in clothing.
Mr Huppert asked if the increased distance from which officers would be using the XREP would make it harder for officers to identify those in ‘special population groups’ for example those who were elderly or mentally ill.
Delivery of the TASER XREP to Police Forces
Kevin Coles, Managing Director, Pro-Tect Systems said he thought his company’s TASER authority covered all TASER devices. He said that [prior to the extraordinary delivery to Northumbria police in the Raoul Moat case] his company had only supplied Lincolnshire Police for the purposes of training / “display purposes”.
Mr Coles said he was sorry that the delivery to Northumbria police had taken place. He said his business partner had “had telephone conversation” and had “gone off in the early hours of the morning”. He suggested that the problem with the delivery was that it was made by one person, and that was why it was in contravention of the TASER authority.
Mr Huppert said he was fascinated by the “rush delivery of weapons somewhere in the early hours of the morning”. Mr Coles explained the situation was “pretty unique” and an “emergency situation”; but it was the individual responsible just “wanting to help” because he thought he could help save someone’s live. Mr Huppert pointed out the circumstances meant there was no way the police could have been trained to use the weapons given the rush job. Mr Coles explained the basic platform was a shotgun, so all police firearms officers would be familiar with the basic device, he described it as “a very simple piece of equipment”.
Pointing to the specifications of the weapon Mr Huppert queried if, as a “completely different class of weapon” Mr Coles was really saying no specialist training was required; and asked if the lack of the opportunity for any such training “rang any alarms”. Mr Coles said: “If they can use a shotgun what’s inside it is almost irrelevant”. Mr Huppert explained his concern was not if they could hit the person they were trying to hit, but if they would be using the weapon appropriately, and have no knowledge of the effect of a 20 second shock. Mr Coles said his business partner did “run through some slides” on the morning.
For those following the official video this section is at about 11:15.
The ACPO Report into the Trial Deployment of TASER to Non-Firearms Officers
Mr Huppert asked Chief Constable Simon Chesterman why requests for this document to ACPO had been rejected despite it being cited by the Home Secretary as evidence on which the decision to extend the TASER roll-out to non-firearms officers was taken.
Mr Chesterman’s reply was astonishing. He appeared, despite his position, not to be aware of any ACPO trial. He said he thought the assessment of the trials had been conducted by the Home Office.
He said ACPO would consider releasing the report. The chairman said he would follow this up with the Home Secretary when she came before the committee.
For those following the official video this section is at about 12:05.
TASER Deployment to Non-Firearms Officers – A Decision for Police Chiefs?
Mr Huppert asked if TASER deployment to non-firearms officers ought be considered an operational matter for Chief Constables, or a strategic matter for Police Authorities, or soon, Elected Police Commissioners? Another MP, Mr Burley, asked if a prospective commissioner standing on a manifesto of allowing only firearms officers to carry TASER weapons would be allowed to implement that policy.
The response from Mr Chesterman was that he considered TASER deployment to be an operational decision for the chief constable. Chief Constable Andy Adams said that while it was a decision for the chief constable in his own force he consulted the public and police authority. He said he couldn’t comment about the position in the future with an elected police commissioner.
(The Home Secretary speaking in Parliament on the 13th of December 2010, speaking on the subject of police weaponry said: “Senior police officers have the operational responsibility to decide what equipment they use, currently in agreement with police authorities and, in future, in agreement with police and crime commissioners.” Today in the Commons (Temp link) There appears to be a disconnect between the Ministers’ view and that of the police. )
For those following the official video this section is at about 11:39.
Mr Huppert asked why the TASER-CAM system which system which can record video of instances of TASERs being used was not being deployed in the UK.
The response given was that there are limitations in that the run-up to the TASER deployment would not be captured, but that the possibility of using the devices is under active consideration.
TASER to Remove Handcuffs
Mr Burley MP expressed surprise that there was a tickbox on the TASER use form for cases when a TASER had been used to enable the removal of handcuffs. Civil servants offered to look and see how often that box had been ticked.
TASER Cartridge Supply
Chief Constable Simon Chesterman said that within the next six months we are going to need in the region of 22,000 live cartridges and 23,000 training cartridges “to keep things going”. He explained this was largely due to training needs. He said he, as the ACPO lead, was planning to orchestrate the distribution of TASER cartridge stocks. The Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee noted that he had thought being an “ACPO lead” was a policy role.
MP Mark Reckless followed this up; querying the role of ACPO, saying “Who gave ACPO this authority”, he was told the Home Office asked ACPO to conduct the audit; he asked for a copy of the request from the Home Office and the Chief Constable promised to supply a copy of the document to the committee.
Mr Huppert queried the numbers of cartridges needed. Mr Chesterman explained there were around 10,000 officers trained in the use of TASER in the country now and that both training and live rounds needed to be fired during training.
The Home Secretary’s Appearance at the Home Affairs Select Committee
The Home Secretary is to appear in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the 14th of December. The purpose is to scrutinise the Home Secretary’s performance in her first seven months. Only a start time has been published in advance (12.40); I hope the committee has sufficient time to thoroughly question her. I would have thought at least a couple of hours would be needed, but wouldn’t be surprised to see her there for under an hour – select committee sessions have a tendency to appear very rushed and they ought be a place where MPs can really probe into details.
Not even the draft transcripts of the select committee’s TASER session have been made available prior to the session with the Home Secretary. It strikes me that a written copy of their past proceedings would be useful for MPs to have in-front of them during and when preparing for the session questioning the minister.
- What is currently the Government position on pushing the roll-out of TASER to non-firearms officers? Ex. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced funding for 10,000 Tasers in November 2008; then the Government was reported as stating this would extend TASER user to all front line officers. Is this still the Government’s aim?
- When in the House of Commons on the 13th of December 2010 the Home Secretary was asked about police use of weaponry, such as rubber bullets and water cannon, she responded:
I will clarify the position on water cannon. It is of course the responsibility of the Home Office to set the legal parameters for measures that can be used by the police, and, as I speak, water cannon have yet to be approved as a piece of equipment that can be used by the police.
Source Today in the Commons (Temp link)
However following the Raoul Moat case a Home Office Spokesman was widely quoted as saying “the police could use any weapon they saw fit as long as its use was lawful, reasonable and proportionate”. (Example Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, BBC). Which is accurate, the Home Secretary’s statement yesterday to the commons, or the Home Office’s statements following the Raoul Moat case?
- In the committee’s evidence session on TASER weapons it was revealed ACPO was playing what sounded like a rather operational role with respect to drawing up contingency plans for the supply of TASER weapons and cartridges should no UK distributor be in place. Particularly given this kind of operational role being taken on by ACPO what safeguards and are in-place to monitor and hold to account chief officers in their ACPO roles?
- The latest statistics on TASER use in the UK currently available are from the period till September 2009. Why are the latest figures over a year old? When will the Home Office resume timely quarterly publication of TASER use statistics? (Details in this FOI request/response)
- At the previous session on TASERs the chairman of the Home Affairs committee promised to follow-up the question as to why the *ACPO* report on the trial deployment of TASERs to non-firearms officers, cited by the then Home Secretary in the announcement of an the expanded roll-out of TASER to non-firearms police has not been made public. The previous government announced an intent to make ACPO subject to FOI legislation by October 2011, but surely its clearly highly influential documents ought be accessible to the public now. )
- The committee has heard clear assurances from the police and home office officials that TASER should not, and will not, be used for crowd control in public order situations. What are the Home Secretary’s views on police at protests *carrying* TASER weapons?
- Why did the Home Office civil servants responsible for issuing TASER authorisations not spend £2 at companies house to discover the degree to which the newly authorised Tactical Safety Responses was linked to the struck-off Pro-Tect Ltd. (Why does the police procurement process and UK regulation create this bizarre monopoly niche for a company in any case?).
Policing Protests – Kettling
Of course the key question of the moment with respect to policing isn’t on TASERs; its about the policing of the 9th December tuition fees protest outside Parliament where many people were “kettled” by the police. In Parliament on the 13th of December the Home Secretary told the House of Commons: “Those who wished to leave were able to do so” (YouTube Video). This contradicts the testimony of many of those involved in the protest (eg.. Jacqui Karn writing in the Guardian, Jason Clark and a number of people who wrote to the Guardian describing their, and their children’s experiences (See also a second page of Guardian letters describing individual’s experiences)).
The question raised is if the Home Secretary made her statement based only on information she had been given by the police, rather than making use of the full range of sources of evidence available to her which she ought to have used to ensure she had an accurate understanding of what happened.
The committee environment is one where hopefully MPs can more robustly grill the Minister as they can keep pushing for answers, whereas in the Commons chamber they generally get to ask a question but rarely (unless they submit a question in advance) get the chance to follow-up.
Home Office Responsibilities
The spectrum of Home Office responsibilities is huge, policing is just one small part. I suspect Mr Huppert will also want to ask questions about many other areas, including immigration, where he might keep lobbying on the point that under the UK’s points based system a MBA is worth 80 points, but a PhD just 45. Also if students for courses below degree level are singled out specifically to achieve the government’s targeted headline cut in “immigration” figures then that would have a effect particularly on Cambridge.
- Home Affairs Select Committee Session on TASERs – my article written prior to the session
- Tactical Safety Responses Gains UK TASER Authorisation Despite Links to Struck-Off Pro-Tect – My first article following the session.