Conflict Management – Police Use of Taser

I do not need to remind you of the dangers that police officers these days face. Once upon a time the traditional Constable in their tunic and wooden peg as is was called was enough to put the fear of god into anyone, however today is another story. Before I get into this post have a look at this short video. Whilst watching it I want you to take note of the use of a wheelie bin and think about the incident without that bin.

Frightening stuff hey! Police Officers carry a belt or tactical vest that carries their radio, handcuffs, baton, defence spray and in some cases leg restraints. All officers are educated on what is known as the National Decision Making Model. This model teaches officers about things to consider in regard to use of force. I am not going to go into the  National Decision Making Model so I suggest you look it up if you want further details.

The video that you saw clearly involved a dangerous man armed with a massive knife. He was clearly under the influence of drugs or something else and was taking swings at officers clearly with the intent to cause harm. I accept that the man may have had some mental health issues but that needs to be put to the side for the time being. Although this needs to be considered the first priority in this incident is to disarm the clearly dangerous man. Clearly offences have been committed but we must also consider the fear of crime to other members of the public. Imagine walking past this in the street with your children, would you feel safe?

The first tool that a Police Officer has in their conflict management box is their voice. In all conflict situations this is the first tool to be used. It maybe a fight outside of a nightclub or a gun man threatening hostages, in all cases the voice will be used. When that fails you have other things such as a push or shove, a strike or kick but that clearly would not work in the video you have just seen. You would end up being seriously hurt.

So what is the next option? I will tell you. It is the defence spray that is a spray that is discharged into the face of an offender. This spray causes the eyes to be forced shut so that an offender cannot see and at the same time they experience a stinging sensation. There are different sprays available so I will not go into the mechanics of its content as this will vary. All sprays have the same effect and this video demonstrates how it works.

Note how the man in the video is fighting and then after being sprayed is alot easier to deal with. Words clearly in this situation did not work and as the man was fighting to escape officers were forced to spray him to prevent his escape and injury to themselves.  Lawful? Yes it is.

Now going back to the first video. To spray someone you must first get close enough to them, something that in the first video was a massive risk, however (correct me if you know otherwise) I believe that knife man had been sprayed but was still being violent. So what would you do? You may consider the baton but what effect did that have in the video when the officer with the bin batoned him. The knife man got more angry and started chasing officers around like school children playing kiss chase.

In days gone by the only option would have been to consider lethal force. Remember I said about considering things like mental health. Is it fair to shoot someone dead due to an illness? Yes it may have come to that but shooting someone dead is a big step from hitting them with a steel baton. With an increase in violence on the street Police needed a tool top bring that gap between the baton and lethal force. In comes the launch of Taser.

The Taser was designed to deliver a burst of electric shock via two cables that are discharged from the end of the weapon. This charge causes a temporary shut down of the nervous system causing a violent subject to fall to the floor. The recovery time is less than a minute in which time officers can apply Taser aftercare and remove any weapons from a violent person such as the man in the first video. Much better than shooting someone dead in my opinion.

The Taser was designed to fill the gap in the  National Decision Making Model as ultimately the subject being Tasered lives after the event. With conventional firearms they would highly likely end up dead which is not fair if the violent outburst is as a result of a mental health outburst or similar. Its better that a person needing professional help for things such as mental health is given that help rather than being shot and killed.

Taser does have its risks and can lead to temporary health complaints that are alot shorter than healing of a broken bone from a baton strike etc. If you went into cardiac arrest a Paramedic would shock you back into life with electric so Taser needs to be considered carefully as does any use of force. Spray someone and they could fall and hit their head (although you should if possible try to catch them), hit someone with a baton and they could be injured or have bones broken, and firearms – well that speaks for itself.

As yet Taser is not standard issue Police equipment however in my opinion with violence against police increasing and things such as single crewing I think it will come. Currently only selected officers carry Taser and they are called to assist the unarmed officers when needed. In the first video 30 officers were deployed and none had Taser. Where I work you wont have thirty officers on the Division so if that happened to me I would be well and truly stuffed unless in the unlikely event there was a Taser officer in the next street who could arrive within seconds.

In my force area Taser use must be pre authorised and that is done as follows.

  1. Police receive a call from a member of public reporting a fight for argument sake where someone is seen brandishing a knife in the street and making threats.
  2. The call taker will ask details of the weapon, what threats have been made etc whilst the log is being reviewed by the force control room Inspector.
  3. The Inspector having considered the National Decision Making Model  decides that there is a serious risk to the public and police officers who will attend so they authorise Taser use should it be necessary at the scene. Remember the officers will always try to engage the suspect first with voice etc before Taser. They will have to justify their actions in court.
  4. Once authorised the Inspector endorses the log with the justification for authorising Taser.
  5. The police officers arrive at the scene and are confronted with the man in the first video. They try to reason with the man without success and eventually Taser is discharged.

The only exception to this policy is when on arrival at any incident (without pre authorisation) the officer is faced with immediate violence such as a knife man attacking them and it is not possible to seek authorisation they may (when justified) draw Taser without permission. This policy I believe varies from force to force but I can only comment on my home force.

Taser has mixed views amongst the community. Many think it is good and many think it is bad. The thing I struggle to get my head around is everyone knows that it will hurt them and how they work so when one is pointed at them why do they continue to behave in a violent way? Memory effected by drink , drugs or mental health may explain some of it but I have seen people who are sober and fully with it who still resist.

I have however seen myself on UK  TV shows one or two incidents of Taser being drawn and threatened in incidents that to be perfectly blunt are completely unneccessary and where had Taser actually been deployed I would not have liked to have been that officer at the court hearing or complaint hearing! I will not name the force but on one TV program I saw two officers with a handcuffed prisoner who was not engaged in a full on fight with the officers put pulling away from them. A friend of the handcuffed man walked over to try to but in and rather than one officer breaking away to deal with the friend he drew his Taser and screamed at the man to get back or he would be Tasered. I could not believe my eyes! This was completely over the top and not necessary and is probably the typical kind of case that lawyer Sophie Khan deals with.

For me the Taser is a very important link in the National Decision Making Model . It bridges that gap between the baton and the normal firearm that has an almost certain risk of death when used. Taser should be used in the most serious incidents but I do disagree with some of the claims made by anti Taser believers. Many compare the use of Taser against officers in the US and I must say that having watched some American cop TV shows I must agree that their use is somewhat excessive and can never become a reality on the streets of the UK.

The Taser is a weapon to save life and whenever it is used there is obviously a risk to the person being subjected to the force however what the public must realise is that this force will be as a result of their actions. Put the weapon down and you wont be Tasered. My force has a good Taser policy and thankfully Taser deployments are a rare event.

Thank you for reading and I am sure this post will cause some healthy debate. In that event please respect each others views.

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6 Responses to Conflict Management – Police Use of Taser

  1. ZacharyEMD says:

    Interesting blog. I’m pleased to see a police officer agreeing that certainly at least on TV there are instances of taser misuse. I didn’t realise either that use of Tasers has to be pre-authorised. I thought of myself as anti-taser before but now I can certainly see a use for them. I’m interested though inhow Taser is a step up from Tear gas/other sprays?

    Lastly, you say taser use is accountable to a court. Does this mean that every use of the taser is investigated like happens with armed police units? And does that ‘use’ of a taser include pointing it at someone rather than just firing it?

    • Firstly thank you for your comment. In the Blog I stated that Taser use is normally pre authorised in my force area. I cannot speak for other forces so please let me be clear on that. There is a big gap between the spray and the next level. I have before now seen violent people being sprayed with little or no effect. I once saw a former soldier who had been trained in CS tanks where they had to enter a room full of it without a mask fighting. He was high on drugs and armed with a metal pole. Four officers got injured in that incident until the man was Tasered. Getting near him with a shorter baton would have had no effect given as the drugs he was on made him feel no pain. When you think of that situation Taser was necessary as it was not proportionate to shoot him dead with traditional firearms as the behaviour was a result of drugs he had taken. If however it was a terrorist threatening a hostage then normal firearms may have been considered. I hope this aids you to see the point I was making.

    • I also forgot to add that ANY use of force is subject to justification and any officer using force must be prepared to explain why and their thought process to a court or other official inquiry inc internal complaints procedures.

  2. daveincanada says:

    I showed the first video to my troops on parade (we’re all armed BTW, all with pistols, some with Tasers, some with AR15s) and asked what action they would take
    On the basis of my wholly unscientific survey, visitors to Canada and residents can take comfort from the fact that any clown brandishing a machete in a residential street would be dropped using a combination of live rounds in less than 10 seconds (mental health problems notwithstanding).

    Any police officer using a Taser on that guy would be sacked,.

  3. Pingback: Use of Force:- Decision Making | Police Geek

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