The Police Federation of England & Wales (PFEW) and the National Police Chief’s Council have responded to a report that has been published by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), regarding the use of tasers by police officers.
The report from the IOPC comes after it reviewed 101 of its own investigations into incidents where a taser was used, covering a period between 2015 and 2020.
In the five year period, the 101 cases which the IOPC looked at represented 0.1% of the aggregate cases during the same period when officers used a taser – ‘use’ also included pointing a taser at a person.
The IOPC said that the review ‘looked at existing data and research and considered a range of community groups and other stakeholders’ views’. The review highlighted the number of cases – almost a third – where the IOPC identified what it called ‘potential missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation’.
Details in the review also highlighted the IOPCs concerns around ‘prolonged and multiple Taser discharges’.
Talking about the review, IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said:
“There is no doubt that Tasers are a valuable tool for keeping both the public and police safe in dangerous circumstances.
“Tasers are available to more officers than ever before.
“Our engagement with communities has highlighted a stark difference between their expectations about when a Taser should be used, and the situations in which Taser can be used under current national guidance, particularly on those who are vulnerable.
“Police forces must be able to explain this clearly or risk further eroding public confidence – it is a gap which must be closed.
“In particular, people from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds deserve a clear and transparent answer from police on why such disproportionality still exists – failure to address this risks undermining the legitimacy of policing”.
The IOPC report found that out of the 101 cases it looked at where 108 people were subjected to Taser use, 94 of them had a Taser discharged against them.
Out of those people, 71% were white, 22% were black, less than 4% were Asian and less than 2% were of mixed ethnicity.
The report also found that the average age of the individuals included in the 101 cases the IOPC looked at was 35-year-old.
Six of those included in the 101 cases were aged under 18.
One case resulted in a criminal trial where an officer was convicted of unlawful manslaughter.
In a 128 page document, the IOPC report makes 17 recommendations seeking improvements to national guidance and training; scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use; and data and research.
Responding to the report, Che Donald, National Vice-Chair of the Police Federation of England & Wales, said:
“We are pleased the IOPC Director General recognises Taser is a valuable tool which helps keep police officers and the public safe.
“Taser is deployed based on highly complex and difficult assessments of threat, harm and risk.
“Deployment is not based on race, age, or sex.
“This report makes recommendations on 101 IOPC investigations into Taser use in a five-year timescale.
“However, there were almost 100,000 recorded Taser usages in this period, so it is statistically insignificant.
“For many years, PFEW has fully supported the IOPC’s desire to seek improvements to national Taser guidance and training.
“Police officers are the practitioners of Taser and would ultimately be affected by these recommendations if implemented. We are naturally disappointed our 130,000 members were not consulted and this study is based on 0.1 per cent of Taser uses over a five-year period.”
The review highlighted the number of cases – almost a third – where the IOPC identified what it called ‘potential missed opportunities’ to de-escalate the situation.
The IOPC also raised concerns around prolonged and multiple Taser discharges.
Responding to the report, The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Less Lethal Weapons, Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi wrote 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.
“I advised the IOPC of my concerns and am extremely disappointed that it did not engage with policing, attend a Taser training course or consult the national independent experts who we work with whilst undertaking its initial research.
“Only 101 Taser uses over a five year period were reviewed and these were all ones that had been investigated by the IOPC.
“It is concerning that this only represents 0.1 per cent of all Taser uses in the same period, which totals 94,045.
“Focusing on these smaller number of cases missed an opportunity to consider Taser use more broadly and unfortunately has resulted in recommendations which are mostly out of date and not based on the realities of policing.
“The focus on such a small data set ignores good practice and learning elsewhere”.
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