News

Vast Increase in Police Taser Use a ‘Threat to Life’, Report Warns

A study of Home Office data reveals that use of the stun guns has risen by more than 500 percent in England and Wales over the last ten years.
29 July 2020, 11:17pm
Taser Use by Police Rapidly Increasing in Manchester and London, Report Warns
A British police officer uses a Taser during training. Photo: Finnbarr Webster / Alamy Live News

Taser use by police forces in Manchester and London has increased rapidly, posing a growing threat to life, a new report published by Resistance Lab warns.

The report details how police use of the electric stun guns has increased by more than 500 percent in England and Wales over the last ten years, with particular focus on Manchester and London. Using police use of force statistics from the Home Office, the report states that the Metropolitan Police’s use of Tasers increased by 49 percent in the last year, while use by Greater Manchester Police increased by 73 percent. Both figures are higher than the national average of 39 percent. In Greater Manchester, the number of Taser incidents rose from 832 in 2017/18 to 1,442 incidents in 2018/19. Greater Manchester also had the second-highest use rate of Tasers of any police force in England and Wales, other than the Met.

Resistance Lab, a Manchester-based group of academics and activists working to confront state violence, warns that this increase in Taser use poses a growing “threat to life”. This is in part due to the risk of cardiac complications associated with the weapon.

Police use of Tasers also disproportionally affects Black people. According to Home Office stats, highlighted by the report, Black people are four times more likely to be Tasered by police than white people.

The report comes at a time when increased scrutiny has been placed on police treatment of Black people following the death of George Floyd in the US. The pandemic has also resulted in an increased use of police force. The number of stop and searches has risen dramatically during the pandemic, and BAME people are more likely to be fined under coronavirus legislation than white people.

In June, rapper Wretch32 shared a video on Twitter of his 62-year-old father, Millard Scott, being Tasered by police in his home. The video was widely circulated at the time, drawing criticism for the perceived unnecessary use of a weapon. In an interview with ITV News, Scott said: “I’m lucky to be alive.”

“The only people who have invaded our space are the Metropolitan Police,” he continued. “The only people who seem to ignore the guidelines put out there are the Metropolitan Police. It seems at this moment in time we are being singled out and targeted.”

Dr. Kerry Pimblott, author of the study and lecturer in international history at the University of Manchester, told VICE News: “Since the introduction of the weapon in 2003, at least 18 people have died following Taser usage by police and many more have sustained serious injury and lasting trauma. These individuals and their families have, in many cases, fought protracted battles to secure justice and to alert the wider public to the very real threat to life that these weapons pose in the hands of police.”

“Unfortunately, an examination of the Home Office’s own ‘use of force’ data indicates that these warnings have not been heard,” she continued. “Tasers are being rolled out to more and more frontline officers around the country and their use is becoming increasingly routinised.”

Resistance Lab states that more cases “in which members of the public suffer serious injury or death” from Tasers are to be expected, and is calling for the abolition of the weapon.

VICE News contacted the Metropolitan Police. A spokesperson said: “Taser is a vital tool in keeping safe both members of the public and police officers. Officers undergo rigorous training before they are allowed to use Taser and are required to pass an annual refresher course to ensure they remain competent in its use.”

“Officers know and expect to be held to account for their actions. We welcome scrutiny around the use of Taser, and examine our processes regularly to ensure it is being used in an appropriate manner. We also work close [sic] with policing nationally to discuss and take forward matters that have an impact on policing across the UK and link in with our dedicated firearms and Taser independent advisory group members for their valuable help and guidance. We always take concerns about disproportionality seriously and this forms part of our regular scrutiny within the Met around the use of Taser.”

Looking closely at London Taser data from the Home Office reveals many incidents in which Tasers were deployed by police officers who had not received official training. According to Gavin Haynes, an independent researcher of policing, a breakdown of the stats reveals 98,017 incidents where Tasers were used by officers who were not recorded as being “Taser trained”. This is larger than the number of officers who were recorded as Taser trained who used the weapon (63,002 cases). Out of those 63,002 incidents, 16,816 occurred when officers were not recorded to be carrying the weapon while on duty.

VICE News reached out the Greater Manchester Police. Assistant chief constable Nick Bailey, force lead for specialist operations said: “Our priority is to protect our communities and keep them safe.”

“It is often the case that having a Taser-trained officer present at an incident - including those that may involve a weapon, serious assault or violence towards officers - can resolve a dangerous situation quickly and safely,” he continued. “This prevents them from escalating and often the situation is resolved without the Taser being discharged, or another use of force such as a baton or incapacitate spray being used."

Greater Manchester Police say their recent figures show incidents involving Tasers dropping. “Although the number of incidents involving a Taser grew from 17/18 to 18/19 due to the number of trained officers increasing, the percentage of total Taser incidents where a Taser was not discharged has increased by 6 percent. Our figures also show that incidents involving a Taser have reduced with the latest figures from 19/20 showing a drop from 1,442 to 1,336.”

Update 31/07/20: This article was updated to include a comment from the Greater Manchester Police.