Police backlash over 'vague' report calling for better Taser training

25 August 2021, 12:41 | Updated: 26 August 2021, 08:35

A row has broken out over police taser use and training
A row has broken out over police taser use and training. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Policing leaders have criticised a watchdog's report which called for better Taser training for officers.

An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report raised concerns about the increased use of Tasers on children and the mentally ill. The report also found that black people were eight times more likely than their white counterparts to be Tasered and were more likely to be subject to multiple discharges.

The report made 17 recommendations to police, which it said needed to be implemented urgently.

But the report's findings were labelled "vague" and "lacking in detail" by policing chiefs who also said the sample used in the IOPC study only represented a fraction of cases.

READ MORE: Watch the moment police Taser knife wielding burglar after Kent crime spree

Lucy D’Orsi, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Taser use, said the report was based on fewer than 0.1 percent of incidents. She also criticised the IOPC for not engaging properly with the police and not attending one of its Taser training courses.

She wrote in a blog: "Only 101 Taser uses over a five year period were reviewed and these were all ones that had been investigated by the IOPC. It is concerning that this only represents 0.1 per cent of all Taser uses in the same period, which totals 94,045."

She said the report's recommendations: "are mostly out of date and not based on the realities of policing."

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report raised concerns about the increased use of Tasers on children and the mentally ill, and said there were several examples of "missed opportunities" for police to de-escalate the situation before drawing the weapon, which works by sending electric pulses through the body, causing temporary incapacitation.

The IOPC also found that black people were more likely to be subjected to prolonged Taser discharge, compared with white people, according to a review of 101 investigations the watchdog carried out involving Tasers between 2015 and 2020.

And it said there was evidence some officers made inappropriate comments, including derogatory remarks during Taser incidents.

Michael Lockwood, IOPC director general, said: "We recognise that Tasers are an important tool in policing.

"However, if the concerns identified in our report are not addressed, there is a risk the police will lose the trust and confidence of the communities they serve."

Mr Lockwood said: "Ultimately, policing has to change and be more responsive to community concern or risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

"These recommendations now sit with policing bodies and forces to act on."

The report comes against a backdrop of concern over the disproportionate use of Tasers in cases involving black people.

The device also featured prominently in the recent court case of police officer Benjamin Monk, who was convicted of manslaughter when he kicked to death the former footballer Dalian Atkinson. This followed an "excessive" 33-second Taser deployment.

The IOPC review of its 101 investigations involved six children, the youngest being 14, as well as four people over the age of 60.

This included a pensioner with dementia in a care home who was brandishing a knife, and another elderly person mistakenly suspected of being involved in a robbery who was tasered after refusing to get on the floor due to a recent knee operation.

The report found mental health concerns or learning disabilities were a factor in 59 of the cases reviewed, and that 14 cases involved Tasers being used in potentially unsafe locations or circumstances, with people sitting on a first-floor window ledge, in a crashed vehicle, and on a moving motorbike.

In another case, a suspect fell into a river after being tasered, and was then further tasered as they tried to get out of the water.

The highest number of discharges against one individual was 12, although evidence suggested that none of them were successful against the suspect, a black man with a history of serious mental health issues, who was seen with two knives.

There was evidence in several of these cases that officers did not attempt to communicate with individuals who had mental health concerns or issues with alcohol or drugs, and instead only shouted instructions, the IOPC said.

It added: "Taser should not be used merely to elicit compliance with instructions or procedures where there is no threat, or the threat has been substantially reduced to the point where it is no longer proportionate or necessary."

There were also examples of alleged inappropriate comments made by officers during Taser use, including one who discharged their weapon at a person's face with the phrase: "Have that."

The IOPC said some of the cases raise questions about whether officers "sufficiently appreciate the risks Taser can pose".