The Lethal Impact of Police Taser Guns
A concerning study on police Taser Guns demonstrates that officers increasingly consider Tasers as a compliance tool rather than a potentially lethal weapon, perpetuating its unequal use, particularly against Black individuals. Despite being marketed as a "less lethal weapon", Amnesty International reported in 2018 that police Tasers had resulted in a total of at least 18 deaths across England and Wales since 2003. Furthermore, Tasers can cause life-threatening and debilitating injuries. In 2020, a Metropolitan police officer Tasered Jordan Walker-Brown, a Black man, resulting in his paralysis from the chest down. The academic study highlights the unequal use of Tasers on Black individuals and embeds itself within the framework of inequality and structural racism present in England and Wales.
Disproportionate Impact on Black individuals
A recent Home Office review indicated that Black individuals are four times more likely than white individuals to be subjected to Tasers. This coincides with a rising use of Tasers on children from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, exemplified by London's 2019 statistics showing that 74 percent of Taser deployments involving minors were from BME backgrounds.
The Institute for Race Relations has linked the excessive use of Tasers against Black individuals to the persistent stereotypes in police forces surrounding Black criminality, the increased policing in BME communities, and the institutional racism within police forces. They highlighted significant controversy over the growing use of Tasers against vulnerable individuals with mental health problems.
Former Metropolitan Police officer Ali Hassan Ali left the police force after recognising its failure in adequately supporting many Black individuals, particularly men facing mental health challenges. He now advocates for stricter regulations on police Taser use. In a recent article he stated:
“It’s well-known that Black people are more likely to be incorrectly perceived as aggressive by cops, whether they’re in need of mental health assistance, the victim of a crime, or even someone who may have committed an offense themselves […] We know that 90 per cent of Met officers disciplined for racism still work for the force.,” emphasises Ali.
Has there been an Increase of Police Taser Use?
Tasers were introduced into UK policing in 2003. Due to being considered potentially hazardous, their use was initially limited to specialised firearms officers who received specific training and were accustomed to handling lethal weapons. By 2008, Tasers became available to non-firearms trained police officers as Specially Trained Officers (STOs). Tasers are now commonly deployed by individual STOs in routine operations.
The College of Policing Guidance on Tasers states clearly Tasers should never be used to inflict pain or achieve compliance and that Tasers should only be used as a proportionate response to an identified threat. Parallelly, the UN Committee Against Torture has declared the pain inflicted by Tasers intense enough to be considered a form of torture in the past.
However, since the introduction of Tasers, the disproportionate use of these devices against the Black population has remained a persistent issue. Despite the deaths caused by Tasers and evidence of racially disproportionate use, and the severe lack of research on their physical and psychological impacts, the study indicates that in September 2019, the government allocated £10 million to equip an additional 10,000 police officers in England and Wales with Tasers. Moreover, Tasers' access was extended to student officers, and in 2022, Special Constables were granted access to the device. In line with this, there has been a steady rise in Taser usage each year from 2018 to 2021.
Is UK Police Taser Training Adequate?
Since the introduction of Tasers in the UK, Taser training shifted from extensive firearms training to a shorter, three-day program. In 2013, the UN's Committee Against Torture recommended implementing more specific guidance for UK Taser usage, comprehensive instructions, adequate training, and stricter monitoring.
The study found that police Taser training lacked elements to encourage officers to think reflectively and prevent discriminatory outcomes. Training tended to downplay issues related to its use, including prolonged use. It conveyed a perception that the Taser was a safe, effective tool for both officers and subjects, compared to other options available. There seemed to be an emphasis on the potential dangers of not using the Taser, rather than its use. Within this context, Tasers were perceived a comparatively low-risk, highly effective, and justified method of force in various situations compared to other available options.
Additionally, the training prioritised the safety and legal protection of the police officers over members of the public. It lacked significant emphasis on de-escalation techniques, such as verbal dialogue, and mainly focused on gaining compliance from subjects. Moreover, the training aimed to teach officers how to justify Taser use afterward rather than considering it as a live decision-making tool. This approach suggested that almost any use of the Taser could be justified later on.
Overall, observations concluded that the training lacked elements to encourage officers to think reflectively and prevent discriminatory outcomes. The study highlighted insufficient attention to discussions on ethnic disproportionality during Taser training, along with officers' misunderstanding of this disproportionality.
Why is this issue so significant?
Taser-related deaths have a profound impact on communities, resulting in psychological distress and racialised traumas, the study confirms. Disproportionate Taser use erodes public trust in police forces, particularly within communities that already face discrimination or disproportionate policing.
The significance of this topic is underscored by the alarming increase in deaths in or after police custody this year, nearly doubling from the previous year and marking the highest figure recorded since 2017/18. Among the 23 reported deaths during this period, three cases specifically involved the use of a Taser in this year alone, as reported by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Taser-related deaths examined
Since the Police Taser's inception in 2003, at least 18 tragic deaths have been associated with Taser-related incidents in the UK, occurring in or after police custody. Notably, among these cases are:
- Adrian McDonald: In 2014, Adrian McDonald died after being Tasered by a Staffordshire Police officer and bitten by a police dog while experiencing a mental health crisis. He asked for an ambulance but was ignored. The police officers involved in death successfully appeal proven misconduct charges.
- Dalian Atkinson: In 2016, Dalian Atkinson was Tasered for 33 seconds and kicked in the head twice by a West Mercia Police officer, leading to his death in 2016. The officer was found guilty of manslaughter in 2021.
- Marc Cole: In 2017, Marc Cole died after being Tasered for 43 seconds by a Devon and Cornwall Police officer during a mental health crisis. No disciplinary consequences were faced by the police officer involved.
- Darren Cumberbatch: In 2017, Darren Cumberbatch was Tasered three times, punched multiple times, beaten with a baton, sprayed with CS gas, and handcuffed by Warwickshire Police during a mental health crisis. No disciplinary consequences were faced by the police officers involved.
- Oladeji Adeyemi Omishore: In 2022, Oladeji Adeyemi Omishore was repeatedly Tasered by a Metropolitan Police officer on Chelsea Bridge, leading to his fall and death. The Independent Office for Police Conduct's (IOPC) did not hold a criminal or misconduct investigation into his death.
The academic review of Taser use by the police forces reveals alarming patterns of disproportionate deployment, particularly targeting Black individuals and vulnerable individuals. Despite being advertised as a "less lethal" option, the stark reality paints a grim picture, showcasing Taser-induced fatalities and life-altering injuries. Immediate rigorous reforms and stringent oversight in their application are therefore more urgent than ever.
The Human Rights Department at Saunders Law offers expert legal assistance and representation in civil claims against the police and state. We also have extensive experience in inquest work and take thorough approach to complex cases. If you have encountered mistreatment by the police, including instances involving Taser use, seeking prompt legal advice is essential.
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