Today I had a rather amicable chat with a representative from the police force. It was actually live on BBC Radio Hull, and I think our pleasant exchange took both of us – and the presenter – by surprise. Essentially we were on the BBC lunchtime programme to debate the wrongs and rights of the use of Taser, following today’s Daily Mail story that the Police Federation has called for every frontline officer to be armed with this weapon.
Now – to be clear – we were not in agreement on the main issue, which was that all officers should be armed with Tasers. In fact, we were in clear disagreement. The police representative was advocating it. I was firmly against it. No compromise there.
However I did find myself nodding tacitly at much of what the police rep was saying. For example he admitted that Taser should be used only in situations where there is a very serious threat to life or of very serious injury. He also said that the weapon could be dangerous if the person to whom it is directed has a heart condition or some other condition which may not be obviously apparent on immediate inspection.
However one of the reasons the rep put forward as to why his colleagues should be armed was a decline in resources. With fewer officers on patrol, he argued, there’s a greater need for officers to be able to adequately protect themselves and the community at large.
Now – I agree that police officers have a difficult and dangerous job to carry out. They are met with any variety of situations, and therefore they must be in a position to adequately defend themselves. However I don’t agree that the obvious answer to a decline in the number of officers is to arm all the rest with potentially lethal weapons. From where I’m standing, I only see that as making a precarious situation even worse.
The UK has always prided itself on policing by consent rather than policing by force. The fact that there are fewer bobbies on the beat is a concern as it may have a detrimental impact on the way the police operate on our streets. However by arming more officers with Tasers, there’s a chance that we’ll see a very different culture of policing on UK Streets. We’ve already seen in the US how at least 500 people have died after being shocked with a Taser in the last ten or so years.
We’ve also seen some rather startling incidents of Taser use coming from the US, such as a ten-year-old girl being Tasered for reportedly ‘refusing to take a shower’.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, with more Tasers available, we’ve already seen some exrremely concerning incidents, including the case of a winemaker allegedly being Tasered after failing to stop, and also of the man who was Tasered on a train for carrying a 99p plastic gun.
Admittedly such incidents in the UK are rare – rare enough to be reported on. But the concern is that if more officers are armed with these weapons, there’ll be an increase of cases where it’s evident that Taser should have been used. Then the media will no longer bother to report on these cases because it’ll no longer be news.
International policing guidelines state that use of force should always be proportionate to the level of threat posed. At the moment – thankfully – in most parts of the UK, there isn’t a need for all officers to be armed with this potentially lethal weapon.
I hope that the Prime Minister and the rest of the Police Federation will nod tacitly in agreement on that point.
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