Only a few short months following the conviction of taser-wielding PC Benjamin Monk for causing the death of 48-year-old former footballer Dalian Atkinson, there is increasingly concerning evidence that, year on year, taser violence by Britain’s Police Officers is growing.
Home Office data reveals that the Police Forces of England and Wales recorded 3,300 incidents during 2019/20 in which Officers discharged tasers – an increase of 22% on the previous year (2700 incidents) and no less than 65% higher than 2017/18 (2,000 incidents).
A recent Sky News investigation into this data disturbingly revealed that the age range of the victims of Police taserings over the last 3 years is from as low as 10 years old to as high as 87.
The bare facts of the data alone indicate that Police Officers are becoming more ‘trigger happy’ with taser weapons – resorting to them as a short cut to resolving a conflict situation, without properly considering or exhausting less violent means of resolution – and indeed this is borne out by my own professional experience of such cases.
Whilst in response to media attention upon this issue, Police Forces often provide a roster of examples of taser use which highlight the most violent situations their Officers are confronted with – generally those involving aggressive adult individuals armed with bladed weapons – the fact is that a great many taser incidents involve entirely unarmed individuals.
For example, I have a current case in which a man having been woken by a Police welfare visit to his home was, during the course of an unlawful arrest, tasered in the chest whilst in a state of undress and doing nothing more than verbally protesting. Body Camera footage reveals that the taser-wielding Officer gave my client an instruction to place his hands behind his back, and then when my client failed to immediately comply, tasered him (literally) within 2 seconds.
I am therefore left with real concern that Officers resort far too frequently to their taser guns – whilst I am not disputing that there are certain incidents where taser use is entirely appropriate in the interests and safety of all concerned. Such incidents which threaten extreme violence towards Police Officers or members of the public however, can certainly not have increased by 65% over the last 3 years (manifestly that is not true) which suggests not that there is a rising tide of violence but rather that taser weapons are being deployed by the Police prematurely and inappropriately in ever more low-level incidents and against increasingly younger/vulnerable people.
Indeed, I happen to represent one of the youngest victims of Police tasering whose case is highlighted in the Sky report – the 10 year old girl tasered by the Metropolitan Police in January of this year.
In the interest of confidentiality, I shall simply refer to my client by the pseudonym of Amy.
On the account of Amy’s father, Amy was not warned before the taser was fired at her, and she was not moving towards the Police Officers when it was fired. Following the incident she required treatment in Kings College Hospital, London. A formal complaint has been filed and is presently ongoing.
I am frankly flabbergasted by the suggestion that Police Officers deemed it necessary to taser a 10-year- old girl, even if she was ‘armed with garden shears’ and I am pleased that the investigation currently being conducted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct has assessed that there is an indication that the Officer who tasered Amy has committed a criminal offence and behaved in a manner which would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings due to an indication of excessive use of force. This Officer is now under investigation for a criminal assault upon Amy (by use of his taser), and also on suspicion of gross professional misconduct.
I strongly echo the warning of Amnesty International that there is evidence of “enormous mission creep” in regards to Police taser use in the UK i.e. that it is becoming normalised as a Police response for any failure to comply with their authority, and Officers are reaching for these weapons rather than attempting to de-escalate a situation, or considering other uses of force that do not involve discharging a firearm which launches barbs designed to penetrate the skin, delivers a horrendous (although generally shortlived) burst of pain, which poses a real risk of cardiac arrhythmia (particularly in younger and more vulnerable individuals) and which – even when not fired – can leave long-term mental scars which long outlast the physical effects.
The IOPC investigation into Amy’s case presently continues, but regardless of its findings I will remain committed to doing what I can to reverse what might well be described as a rising epidemic of Police taser violence.