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Taser use still plateau'd among firearms cops

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The latest quarterly figures on English and Welsh police use of Taser electro-stun weapons have been released by the Home Office. Tasings overall are up as more plods tool up with the jolt-weapons; but use remains broadly steady among firearms teams, the only police to have been equipped with Tasers for long.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, about whom a distinct whiff of impending disaster seems to hang at the moment, said that the national rollout of Tasers to selected non-firearms police is on track.

"Tasers are making a real difference on our streets, not only keeping the public safe but also protecting our police officers," she stated.

The Home Office records reveal that, as of the end of 2008, Britons had been electrified by plods on 1330 occasions (exclusive of a brief pilot scheme in 2003). Some 1181 of these zappings were "discharges", in which barbs fly from the Taser to deliver electricity at a distance: the other 149 were so-called "drive stuns" in which the weapon is placed directly against the target's body.

With numbers of Taser-trained non-firearms officers on the rise, a rise in tasings quarter on quarter would be expected and has occurred. It won't be possible to say how frequently such coppers use their weapons until their numbers stabilise.

However, Tasers were originally issued only to specialist firearms teams. A Taser isn't usually very suitable in a situation where plods expect to face gun-toting villains (a "firearms authority" operation), as it is single-shot only and very short ranged. However, armed coppers also respond to non-firearms incidents, and in these cases they sometimes use their Tasers in the same way that other police are supposed to - the idea is that use of a Taser is less damaging for both plods and their opponents than use of clubs, wrestling etc. These incidents are reported as part of the Home Office figures.

As numbers of firearms cops have remained steady, it's possible to check whether they're using the electroshock weapons more frequently as time passes. This doesn't seem to be the case: in the last quarter of 2008, the English and Welsh gun-plods zapped 94 unarmed opponents in total, consistent with their number from the first quarter (92).

In 82 cases the weapons were discharged; in 12, "drive stun" mode was used. There were also 178 cases where use of the Taser's "red dot" laser sighting device was enough to compel surrender, and 17 where weapons were "arced" as a threat but not actually used on people. Altogether, Tasers were drawn by the firearms teams on 344 occasions.

At least in the case of firearms cops, use of Tasers seems to be at a steady level. Widely-voiced technofear to the effect that electroshock tech would lead to an outbreak of gratuitous police torturings would seem to be without basis - the more so as Tasers automatically log every occasion on which they're used, as well as scattering uniquely-coded confetti about on discharge.

All in all, as recent incidents at the G20 protests in London would seem to confirm, a truncheon or a boot remains a much better option for a viciously-inclined copper than a Taser is - and the police themselves are well aware of that. ®

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