NPCC Less-Lethal Weapons Lead requests independent review of Taser safety advice
NPCC Lead on Less-Lethal Weapons, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, has responded to this morning’s publication of Home Office Taser statistics, bearing in mind the recent inquest verdict in the case of Jordon Begley.
DAC Basu said:
“Today’s release of the Home Office’s Taser statistics comes in close proximity to Monday’s narrative verdict by the jury in the inquest into the death of Jordon Begley.
“I have sympathy for Mr Begley’s mother, family and friends. No one can foresee how some situations will conclude and indeed in this one, a young man lost his life following Police contact. Police Officers do a difficult and dangerous job. No police officer sets out to take part in a call or operation that results in someone’s death. On some occasions officers will have to use force and of course there will always be a risk when force is used – whether the tool chosen is an open hand, baton, CS spray or indeed a Taser.
“Officers are entitled to use reasonable force when necessary to protect the public and themselves - in fact it is one of our core duties to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect the public, and also the suspect, from coming to harm or doing harm, where there is ongoing violence or the threat of violence.
“Taser has been used by the UK police since 2003. It has been used in many incidents and was approved by the Home Secretary having been through a rigorous testing process by the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) and a review of its medical implications by an independent body of medical professionals who advise the government on whether it is appropriate to authorise the weapon. This body is called the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons (SACMILL - previously DOMILL). Taser is probably the most medically assessed less-lethal weapon in the world.
“Taser provides officers with the ability to deal with violence or threats of violence at a distance, and has saved many lives. Indeed it must be acknowledged that on 80% of occasions, the mere presence of the Taser or the red dot sighting system is enough to bring that situation to a swift and peaceful conclusion without the need for any force to be used.
“The current statistics released today show this. On only approximately 20% of occasions will the Taser actually be fired. Officers who take the decision to fire the weapon do so in the knowledge that their often split second decision to use force will be judged in detail with the benefit of hindsight over potentially many years and through multiple investigations.
“Officers will not necessarily know the background or health of the person they are confronting, but they must deal with the immediate threat first. Taser does provide distance to allow negotiation to take place first but it will not always be possible. What is important is that if Taser has to be fired to deal with the threat, that officers provide appropriate after care to the subject and are trained to deal with any medical emergency that may follow.
“All officers authorised to carry Taser undergo a thorough three-day training programme of classroom and practical exercises including weapons handling. The national curriculum has been independently assessed and is considered one of the very best in the world. Officers volunteer for training and must be experienced on the street before they are even allowed to be trained. They are selected by senior officers for their ability and good conduct record.
“All officers who use force are individually accountable for their actions. Taser is heavily scrutinised. Every time it is used - even simply drawn from its holster - this must be recorded and examined by a supervisor. If the force used is disproportionate or breaches their training, officers can be investigated and face misconduct or even criminal charges.
“The ability to use force is a very special police power. Officers must be held to account when they use force regardless of the tool that is used to administer that force. Clearly if force is used and it results in a death or serious injury, a rigorous article 2 investigation under the Human Rights Act - which will be led by the IPCC independent of the police service - must take place. In the Jordon Begley case this took place, followed by a long and detailed inquest.
“The whole process takes a very long time and this is arduous for the family and for the officers involved.
“The detailed narrative of the jury’s verdict in the Jordon Begley case will be closely examined, and of course it raises some concern that the use of Taser and other factors are linked to the death. They concluded that ‘The stress of the discharge and the restraint more than minimally and materially contributed to the death of Jordon Begley’
“As a result I will be asking the surgeon general - along with the Home Office - to refer the detailed medical evidence in this case to an independent body in order that they can determine if it is necessary to amend their advice of the safety of this weapon. Their conclusions will be published.
“I take the jury’s verdict in this case very seriously and also await any recommendations that the Coroner may wish to make. We work closely with other bodies such as the Home Office, CAST, SACMILL and the IPCC whenever there is learning from a Taser incident and this case will be no exception.
“I have also noted the comments made by Mrs Begley relating to the use of Body Worn Cameras -described by the Coroner as ‘VideoCams.’ I agree that they are a vital policing tool of the future. They are being increasingly used across the country and I completely support their introduction. I believe their use will improve behaviour on both sides and will demonstrate transparency in our organisation. Not least they will have the benefit of speeding up the investigation process so that families and indeed officers will not have to endure the current long wait for answers.
“Recently the IPCC has announced that they no longer require the mandatory referral of all Taser complaints from the police service. This reflects the in depth work the UK police has carried out to ensure the use of Taser is as transparent and proportionate as possible and the confidence the IPCC has in our process. We will continue to monitor its use with great care.”