UK police are Tasering under 18-year-olds and disproportionately Tasering Black people, an independent report expressing concern over the use of the weapon has found.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) released a report on Wednesday that raises concerns that the public could lose faith in the police’s use of the weapon if there are no improvements to national guidance, training and scrutiny.
The IOPC investigated 101 cases where Tasers were used between 2015 and 2020. The damning report reveals that Tasers were used disproportionately on Black people. It also says that in four incidents, the police use of Taser was a factor in a person’s death.
Despite Black people making up 3 percent of the UK population, 22 percent of Taser usage was on Black people. The report also found that of the investigations, 71 percent of Taser victims were White, fewer than 4 percent were Asian and fewer than 2 percent were of mixed ethnicity.
The report raised concerns about the behaviour of officers who used Tasers. Twenty-six of the investigations found that a police officer “may have behaved in a manner that would justify bringing disciplinary proceedings or a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service”
The report also found that:
– Six people were aged under 18, and the average age was 35
– Use of Taser was a factor in a person’s death in four incidents
– One case resulted in a police officer being convicted for unlawful manslaughter and sentenced to eight years imprisonment
The review raised concerns around the over-use of the weapon. The IOPC identified “potential missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation,” in almost a third of cases. The IOPC also had concerns around prolonged and multiple Taser discharges.
Since the introduction of Tasers to UK police forces in 2003, 18 people have died following Taser usage by police. A 2020 study of Home Office data found that there had been a 500 percent increase in the use of Tasers in England and Wales over the last ten years.
Michael Lockwood, director general of the IOPC said: “There is no doubt that Tasers are a valuable tool for keeping both the public and police safe in dangerous circumstances.
“However, it is important there is ongoing independent scrutiny of Taser use so that both the police and the community can be assured they are being used appropriately. Police forces must be able to justify to the public the circumstances in which Taser is deployed, particularly when children and vulnerable people are involved. Forces must also respond to the disproportionate use of Tasers against Black people.”
A spokesperson for the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said: “Tasers may be described as ‘non lethal’ weapons, but they can easily become lethal in the hands of the police, as we saw from footballer Dalian Atkinson’s death, when police Tasered him for nearly seven times longer than they were supposed to.
“As this report makes clear, Tasers, like many other forms of police violence, are disproportionately used against people of colour, and the fact that a fifth of these incidents should have resulted in disciplinary proceedings or even criminal charges against the officers involved is a damning indictment of police behaviour. It's extremely worrying that Taser use by police is increasing – they should be banned.”
The National Police Chiefs Council condemned the report, claiming it “lacks detail.”
Chief Constable Lucy D'Orsi said in a blog: “Scrutiny of the powers and responsibilities that police have to carry out our duties is critical to maintain the trust of communities. I am proud that the fundamental model of UK policing is one of consent and equally proud that we do so with a service which is only, on average, five per cent armed.
“Unfortunately, this report by the IOPC is vague, lacks detail, does not have a substantive evidence base and regrettably ignores extensive pieces of work that are already well underway and, indeed, other areas where improvement could be made.”