Taser use should be closely analysed and each use robustly justified to ensure the device is being used appropriately and not as a default when other options may be available, according to an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report published today.
The report, which follows an IPCC review of complaints and incidents relating to Taser use from 2004 to 2013, acknowledges that Taser can be a valuable tool in helping police officers manage difficult and challenging situations.
But with more officers now equipped with Tasers and with the number of complaints rising in-line with the increased use, the IPCC recommends that local forces should guard against the possibility that it is being over-used.
For example, the IPCC’s analysis of Home Office data shows considerable disparity in Taser use between forces, with some smaller forces having a proportionately much higher rate of Taser use in relation to their size. There is no obvious explanation for this, and the IPCC will further explore this with police forces.
IPCC Commissioner Cindy Butts said:
"The IPCC has always accepted that there are legitimate reasons for using Taser in policing and that it can be a valuable tool in assisting police officers to manage difficult and challenging situations. However, in light of the significant increase in Taser use, it is important to ensure that the device is being used appropriately and not as a default choice where other tactical options, including communication, could be effective. For that reason, it is very important that each individual use can be justified and that forces closely analyse the extent and type of use.”
The report also raises concerns about the use of Taser:
on people in police custody
on people who are particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental health concerns or young people
in drive-stun mode (when the Taser is applied directly to the body rather than being fired from a distance)
IPCC investigations have examined Taser use on people who are in police custody. The IPCC believes this is only justifiable in exceptional circumstances, taking into account the controlled nature of the custody environment.
In relation to the use of Taser on young people or those with mental disorders, the IPCC considers that all decisions on the use of Taser should take into account the specific vulnerabilities of an individual and these considerations should be recorded in officers’ justifications.
The IPCC has previously raised concerns about the use of the device in drive-stun mode. Though this is only a minority of uses, it is still a major concern.
IPCC Commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone said:
"The IPCC has major concerns about the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode, where the Taser is applied directly to the body without a cartridge rather than fired from a distance. When used in this way it is purely a means of pain compliance. Yet in several of the cases we reviewed, where it was used for the purpose of gaining compliance, it had the opposite effect, stimulating further resistance.”
IPCC recommendations in today’s report include:
stronger and clearer guidance on the use of Taser in custody, where the IPCC believes it should only be used in the most exceptional circumstances
wider safety training for non-Taser equipped officers working with Taser-trained officers
robust monitoring of Taser use by local forces to ensure it is not being used too readily or too often by particular officers or teams
ensuring the selection process for Taser-trained officers and subsequent supervision is robust
Today’s report is only part of the IPCC’s work in relation to Taser use.
A Learning the Lessons bulletin also was published by the IPCC today. The bulletin is separate to the IPCC’s report on Taser and produced in conjunction with policing bodies, setting out case studies and learning from individual investigations.
In addition, there are a number of significant IPCC ongoing investigations relating to Taser use which will inform our work and recommendations. The IPCC is also carrying out a wider review of all types of police use of force, in which use of Taser will also be examined.
A copy of the report can be found here.
*Annex II of the report – Dyfed-Powys and City of London police forces reported the lowest use of Taser with two uses per 100 officers in 2013. Staffordshire had the highest level with 33 uses per 100 officers (use of Taser includes instances where the device is drawn, aimed, arced, red-dotted, drive-stun, angled drive-stun, and fired)
A copy of the previous IPCC Taser report can be found here.
IPCC involvement in Taser use
The IPCC initially asked all police forces to refer all Taser discharges.
In May 2005 asked for referral of cases that resulted in death or serious injury.
In 2007 asked 10 forces included in an expansion trial to refer all public complaints about Taser use.
Following national rollout of Taser in 2009 the IPCC asked all forces in England and Wales to refer all complaints about the use of Taser.