Opposing UK Increasing Police TASER Roll-Out to Non-Firearms Officers


Saturday, April 27th, 2013. 6:45pm

On the 27th of April 2013 I went on BBC News to talk about UK police TASER use. The interview followed the death of Andrew Pimlott in Plymouth following an incident where a TASER was used. The IPCC have published background information and have stated:

Our investigation will be looking at what information was known to the officers attending the scene; the officer’s rationale for discharging a Taser on a person known to be doused in flammable liquid; whether the discharge of the Taser caused the fuel to ignite; and we will look at training and policies.

Transcript

Presenter: Let’s talk now to Richard Taylor who’s an anti-TASER campaigner. Good afternoon to you. What’s your reaction to this case?

Good afternoon. I’m very happy to see police firearms units, those highly trained and highly experienced officers, have access to TASER to be used as an alternative to a conventional firearm. I hope that what this case does is that it raises questions and starts debate about to what extent should other officers, neighbourhood officers and response officers have the weapons. Because that’s what we’ve been seeing over recent years without any clear debate or clear political decision we’ve seen more and more police officers who are not members of these firearms teams routinely armed with TASER weapons.

Presenter: Why is that a problem? Why are you against them?

I think it’s a problem as one of those the last people who spoke on the piece said it’s about training and experience. Now the amount of training that these normal police officers get on TASER, on the weapon itself, is all-right but they’re not experienced officers they don’t have that breadth of training and experience that the specialised firearms teams have so I would rather the TASER weapons be restricted to just the highly trained firearms units.

One of the problems we’ve got is it’s very difficult for a police officer to know what will happen when they pull a trigger on a TASER. You don’t know whether the person is on drugs; you don’t know how they’ll fall when they lose all voluntary control over their muscles, so quite what happens next after you pull that trigger – there’s a lot of risk involved.

Presenter: We have American experience to draw on as well here of course. They’ve been fired what several million times and there was a government advisory committee which talked of only a couple of hundred complications.

Well what we’re seeing though is an increased use of TASER as more officers are getting these weapons, as these weapons are being deployed more. What I want to see is police use of force being proportional and I would question when we’re seeing more police use of TASER are we actually seeing more violent incidents; I don’t think we are, what’s happening is our police response is changing. I’m opposing that because I really think it might well damage the relationship between the police and the public in this country and really change the way this country feels. We have a tradition of unarmed policing and policing by consent. I don’t want to see us move towards policing by force. I don’t think that any element of a UK police officer’s power and authority should come from the weapons that they are holding.

Presenter: Are they really comparable with guns?

Well they are recognised in law. In law they are treated as a firearm. They are a weapon which our police force uses in that way we need to regulate them and ensure that the police officers who use them are incredibly well trained, that’s where the parallels come in.

You could of course argue that it saves lives or at least stops many incidents escalating.

Well I would… what I would like to see is just the most highly trained officers with them. An officer using a baton really knows exactly what level of force they are using; they are better placed to use a proportional level of force rather than an officer who is merely pressing a button, pulling a trigger, on a TASER and then waiting to see what happens.

Presenter: Richard Taylor, thank you very much.

Afterthoughts

This was the first time I’ve been interviewed live on TV. I didn’t know in advance what would be asked. In retrospect there were a few things I’d have tweaked, for example when looking to the USA I perhaps should have said their style of policing, eg. approaching stopped cars with weapons drawn as a matter of course, is exactly what I want to prevent coming to the UK.

I didn’t really answer the point “you could argue it saves lives” very well; it’s back to proportionality, and I do want to see TASER available to the firearms teams, which are deployed around the country, in quite high densities in some places where the rates of violent and armed incidents are high. TASER ought be available, along with conventional firearms, where they are likely to be needed.

What degree of routine armed policing we have across the country where there is no particular heightened level of need is a strategic political policy question.

We need to balance the benefits access to a TASER or other weapons might give in specific, rare incidents, with the wider impacts such as police-public relations. If we move to a situation where policing by force I fear the country will become harder to police.

See also

6 comments/updates on “Opposing UK Increasing Police TASER Roll-Out to Non-Firearms Officers

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have been quoted in the Daily Mail:

    One Taser critic claimed the weapons have been put into the hands of non-firearms officers without any clear debate or political decision.

    Richard Taylor, who is based in Cambridge, said: ‘I don’t think any element of a UK police officer’s power and authority should come from the weapons that they are holding.’

  2. John Smith

    Richard, you are completely missing the point of taser! The issues of policing by consent and the effects police officers (response officers) carrying taser has on their relationship with the public must be balanced against the public’s well being and the police’s ability to be able to safegaurd their well-being and uphold their oath. The issue with your article and indeed many critics of the use of taser is that you do not understand its use in operational situations. When asked about the comparisons of a taser and a gun you rightly comment that the taser is catergorised as a ‘firearm’ for the purposes of legislation, a s.5 firearm to be exact! However it should also be noted that response/neighbourhood officers carry another s.5 firearm in the form of CS spray or ‘pepper spray’ as many laymen refer to it. Lets say we take both ‘Firearms’ away from frontline police officers what are they left with in terms of personal protection equipment? handcuffs? okay if your subject is compliant but what if they are not compliant? what if they are violent and are non-compliant? the only other option available is a friction lock baton! I don’t know if you have ever been hit with a baton Richard but to base your argument on the fact that a baton would be preferable over a taser (which is what you imply) is laughable and just shoes your lack of knowledge on the subject. I would rather be tasered 100 times than given a good strike to the leg, torso or certainly head with a baton. Yes it is possible a subject, having been tasered could fall and bang is head. So do the majority of the UK public after a good Friday or Saturday night out. Bang my head endure 5 seconds (and 5 seconds only!) of albeit excruitiating pain, or have a potentially broken leg or worse from a baton strike, I know which I’d prefer. I agree that we should be proud of a UK police force who are not routinely armed however we must also be careful not to completely disregard a useful and when compared with a baton, lesser level of force, in the taser to uphold albeit a noble but arcahic notion of the good old British bobby!

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I agree the legal definition of a firearm is of minimal relevance to the debate.

      What I want to see is proportionate policing. In some places, such as airports and mainline train stations in the UK already we see armed police on a routine basis. In areas of the country where gun crime, and other incidents requiring armed response, are more common there are more armed police units. I think that’s perfectly reasonable that the degree to which our police are armed is based on a risk assessment, and an assessment of need, and perhaps also an assessment of the value of deterrence.

      Another consideration is the availability of firearms units and the degree to which the increase in arming non-firearms officers is to cover for reductions in the availability of this expensive and specialised resource. In Cambridgeshire firearms teams have been merged with neighboring forces, increasing the chances they could be a very long way, in time, and distance, from an incident.

  3. Manclife

    There’s a lot of flawed logic going on here. You point to the fact more officers are carrying tasers yet there isn’t a comparable increase in violent crime. I don’t doubt that, but it does show that police have been facing very violent offenders without adequate equipment so it shows we should have had them sooner.

    You go on to say it will change the way the public interact with police and that we’ve a tradition of police being unarmed. If we’re unarmed what on earth are batons and CS spray? What do you think firearms officers carry every day? Then add in the conversation about firearms officers availability being reduced and what you actually want is less taser offics and more firearms officers. So you want MORE officers to have MORE guns! So rather than a regular police officer going to deal with a person suffering from a mental health problem holding a knife you would like officers with guns to go?

    You argue about proportionality yet fail to mention its enshrined in law anyway. Along with it needing to be proportionate it must be legal and necessary.

    Taser training is 5 days long, that’s 5 days for the use of 1 item of kit 2 days of which is classroom based focusing on its use, when it can be used, and possible risks of use. However I only get 8 hours training for me to learn self defence, baton, cuff and CS use. Yet you still think an officer using a baton is more likely to know the level of force they use?

    It’s quite clear you don’t like officers carrying taser and to soften your stance and make it more palatable you say firearms officers would be okay to have them. Well my stance is somewhat different. I’ve been in situations where somebody has cut their own wrists and nearly died because I couldn’t safely get close enough to stop them, I’ve been in a fight were somebody suffering excited delirium has been seriously injured because the only option was to use batons. I also deal with victims of offences ranging from theft to rape and never once has the fact I carry a tester been an issue, at most its raises curiosity.

    I’ve been carrying a Taser now for 4 years and have pulled the trigger operational just once. I have however drew it on many occasions and it has prevented an escalation in violence on all those occasions. Prior to this a drawn baton just made them back away a few feet but keep their weapon. It is just 1 possible option in the tactics at my disposal, the best always being talking, and carrying a taser hasn’t changed that.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    An incident in Brighton on the 5th of July 2013 prompted further debate on the use of TASER by non-firearms officers in the UK. I featured on the news report on the 9th of July:

    Richard Taylor

    In addition to what made the clip:

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