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Home Sec: Tasers could become standard police kit

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The UK Home Secretary has said Taser electric shock stunguns "could become standard equipment" for British police officers.

Speaking to Jane's Police Review (subscription only) last week, Ms Smith said:

I have talked to some of the police officers I work most closely with and it is pretty clear... using a baton on someone is likely to be less effective and wreak more damage on the person receiving it. There is a logic here. If we can find a way through it that provides the appropriate training, and if we can be confident, as we have been, about the medical impact... it seems to me like a sensible sort of provision.

The Police Federation - the union for lower-ranking coppers - has in the past called for routine issue of Tasers. The so-called "stunguns" work by shooting two barbed electrodes on the ends of trailing wires, using compressed air. Once the electrodes are in contact, an extremely high voltage but low amperage current is pulsed across them, disabling the target.

Most anti-Taser campaigners acknowledge that the weapons inflict less damage than other methods of forcibly restraining a violent suspect (British police would normally be limited to the use of clubs or hand-to-hand combat).

However, in the US where Tasers are in widespread use, there have been cases of death following the use of the weapons, attracting much negative coverage. Thus far, nobody has managed to prove that any given death was attributable to a victim/suspect being Tasered, or that the stunguns are associated with a higher death rate than other methods of restraint.

Even so, many argue that Tasering is easier and more attractive to malevolent police officers than administering an unjustified beating, pressure-point hold, kick to the groin, etc, and thus that the weapon encourages brutality and torture.

The electroshock guns were formerly issued only to specialist firearms units by the British police. However, these units are typically tasked to deal with incidents where criminals with guns may be involved. As Tasers are single-shot weapons with very short effective range, they aren't really appropriate in many such scenarios.

Nonetheless, Amnesty International, among other groups, believes Tasers should be treated the same as firearms.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, told the Telegraph: "They must be treated as lethal weapons. We want an assurance from the Home Office and police chiefs that these weapons will only be issued to trained firearms officers and kept locked in the firearms box."

Despite this, a number of UK forces are engaged in pilot projects where ordinary officers are issued with Tasers. The information from these pilots will be used to develop a national policy. ®

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