Campaigners are urging Ministers to stop the rollout of tasers amid concerns that it has led to a rise in its disproportionate use against black people and those with mental ill health.
Last week two incidents of black men being tasered caused widespread outrage.
Protests took place in Manchester after footage was shared on social media which showed a man tasered to the ground, seemingly without warning or justification, at a petrol station while his young son watched on hysterically screaming. He was arrested for driving offences. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has questioned whether the taser use was “proportionate or justified” and has demanded an urgent review. Greater Manchester Police have voluntarily referred the matter to the Independence Office for Police Conduct and released a statement, including that “the priority now is to conduct a full investigation into what happened to establish the facts before decisions are made.”
In London, three officers are under investigation after a man in his twenties was tasered and left with a life-changing injury last Monday. The IOPC has described the incident as “extremely serious” and said it would consider whether there are any “conduct or criminal matters”. The man was arrested for possession of cannabis. He was tasered whilst jumping over a wall, which meant he fell to the ground and suffered serious injuries which may leave him partially paralysed.
The government announced last September that more than 10,000 extra police officers were to be armed with tasers. Ministers were warned at the time of risking an “escalation of violence” with human rights campaigners saying this could put public safety at risk.
The human rights advocacy group Liberty has called for the mass rollout to be stopped as tasers put people’s lives at risk and claimed the growing use exacerbates the over-policing of minority and marginalised communities.
A number of civil society organisations quit the National Police Chief’s Council’s independent Taser advisory group last month in protest against the lack of meaningful action to address the disproportionate use. Home Office figures show stun guns were used against black people in England and Wales at a rate of almost 8 times greater than against white people in 2018-19.
A week later the Home Office and College of Policy rejected a call from a coroner to institute a wholesale review, concluding that taser processes and safeguards were already “sufficient”.
Last month, the Assistant Coroner for Cornwall, Geraint Williams, warned that police taser deaths will rise in the UK unless action is taken. He issued a report following the death of 30 year old Marc Cole and raised his concerns that there is “insufficient independent data as to the lethality of taser use and that therefore the advice and training provided to police officers may be deficient or incomplete.” Mr Williams called for a “wholesale review” of the effects of being tasered multiple times or for a long period so that more comprehensive advice and training can be given to police.
Following the inquest proceedings, Deborah Coles, the director of INQUEST, said “The continued roll out of Tasers to police forces, without a full independent review of their associated risks and lethal potential, is nothing less than reckless. It is critical that this recommendation for a review is implemented with urgency.”
Following the two recent incidents, Deborah has added that,
The disproportionate use of force against black people and those with mental ill health is well evidenced and has led to a pattern of deaths and serious injuries … there are legitimate questions to ask about its safety and its use as a first and not a last resort.
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