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Tuesday, August 18, 2009 

Don't tase us bros!

The latest figures released on the use of tasers by police forces across the country are starting to look concerning. While the jump from 187 uses between October to December 2008 to 250 during January to March this year can be explained by how the Home Office allowed Chief Officers to decide when "specially-trained" units can be deployed with the weapons, it doesn't explain why different forces are using them far more readily than others.

The most startling are the number of uses by Northumbria police, which since April 2004 has used tasers in one way or another on 704 occasions, 4 more than even the Met has. This is an astounding number, especially when compared to another force of similar size and with a similar urban environment, Merseyside, who also took part in the same trial as Northumbria and which has used them just 76 times in total. One explanation might that more units were trained in their use than in the other forces, but Northumbria's use still seems to be remarkably high. Northumbria claim that their use is highest because they're the only force to train firearm response officers to also use them, and that the rise would correspond with the drop in firearm officers being deployed, in contrast to other forces, but it also makes you wonder whether because officers know this they more readily call for help when faced with problems they would have dealt with themselves before. Only the Met and West Yorkshire actually fully "discharged", as in fired rather than threatened their use or pressed the weapon up against the person on more occasions.

The biggest worry with the use of tasers has to be that when the police would previously have reasoned extensively to subdue someone who was uncooperative with them, or used acceptable, if subjective force to achieve the same result, the weapon becomes the first resort rather than the last, even if used just simply as a threat. Unlike in the US, where the Taser was meant to be deployed as an alternative to firearms (even if, somewhat predictably, no such fall in the use of guns seems to have been noted), police in this country have only ever used guns when the suspect is also believed to have or has used one. That tasers seem to be entering normal police use, and that as a result, their use also becomes to be seen as normal is a cause for concern when the safety of the weapons is far from being certain. As the Guardian leader argues, the exact circumstances of their use, as well as how they were used needs to be recorded to ensure that the above doesn't become the norm. The police blogger Nightjack wrote that most police were approachable and pleasant, it was just that they had started to dress and be armed like "imperial stormtroopers" which worried and put the general public off. The casual deployment of tasers would only make such attitudes worse.

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