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.
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.
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.