On the 24th of September 2012 I went on BBC Radio Wales to argue against the arming of all front-line police in the UK with TASER weapons.
The decision on arming the police with TASER on a routine basis is one for society as a whole, and not just for the police. It’s a decision which we will soon be able to take as we elect our Police and Crime Commissioners. While some candidates view it as an operational decision and not one for them, if the police are routinely armed or not, and what with, is in my view a core strategic issue and very much one for a Commissioner.
In the UK we have a relatively good relationship between the police and public; which enables policing “by consent” rather than by force. We are policed by a very thin blue line, and I think that’s a positive thing. If the police were routinely armed with TASER I think the police – public relationship would be damaged and the country would become harder to police as a result.
I certainly think that every police officer carrying a conventional firearm should have a TASER available as a less lethal alternative. I would like to see the use of TASER restricted to officers with the experience of dealing with violent conflict in a restrained manner which UK police firearms officers generally have.
In Cambridgeshire however we are to have a firearms unit which is merged with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, this means that there would be an issue of both cost and time taken to reach an incident if in those cases where a TASER is required a firearms team had to be called out. Given this position, which I think raises questions about the level of firearms cover, I would be happy to see TASER used by officers outside the firearms unit, if those officers have a similar level of training and experience, for example officers who have recently been members of the firearms team but are currently undertaking other roles. What I most strongly oppose is the routine carrying of the weapons. A strategic statement and direction along those lines is what would like to see made by our elected representatives. The details of exactly which officers ought carry the weapons and when is an operational one for the police themselves.
One of the things which had prompted the discussion being raised on BBC Radio Wales was “TASER demonstrations” on the programme for a North Wales Police open day that weekend. As it wasn’t clear what the “demonstration” involved and previously the force has given a short TASER shock to their Chief Constable I called the press office to find out. Impressively the police press office got back to be very quickly to say that the “demonstration” was in fact just a lecture and an office with a LASER pointer would talk the public through the various components of the weapon.
The point put to me on the show was that greater use of TASER showed greater need for officers to be armed with the weapons. I argued though that the figures suggest that the more police officers we have armed with TASER the more the weapons get used and the greater force the police end up using.
I noted that while the then Home Secretary, Labour’s Jacqui Smith announced, and even put money up for all officers to be armed with TASER this aim had been thwarted by police authorities and the police themselves, those closer to neighbourhood policing and with greater understanding of the importance of the relationship between the police and the public in the UK and how that relationship is one of the core elements of our society which makes it relatively safe.
During the exchange I also suggested that an officer using force via a TASER, just pressing a button, is disconnected from the effect they are having, and in that is one of the ways using a TASER can end up being a use of an inappropriate amount of force.