Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, a campaigning group monitoring the policing of young people, is questioning the roll out of Metropolitan Police tasers in the Borough in the light of controversial incidents elsewhere of suspects being injured or dying during “taser arrests.”
East London Lines reporter Saskia Black has been given permission to attend a training day and the Met Police revealed their thinking behind the introduction of tasers to policing throughout London.
In each of the East London Lines boroughs: Lewisham, Croydon, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, forty police officers are being trained on how to use tasers- also known as “electronic stun guns.”
The Met Police say it will mean they will have the means to control violent situations and this will reduce the risk of death and injury to suspects, police and the public.
In addition to the use of four tasers in each borough, a pan-London emergency response team will be available across the capital.
The IPCC said: “Our investigation will be looking at what information was known to the officers attending the scene; the officer’s rationale for discharging a Taser on a person known to be doused in flammable liquid; whether the discharge of the Taser caused the fuel to ignite; and we will look at training and policies.”
In Hackney, Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, set up by youth worker Emeka Egbuono, is campaigning against their introduction. The group met last week to discuss their concerns over the increase in the use of what they see as “a firearm that can cause injury and distrust between the police and the community that goes beyond what normally happens when the police are called.”
Tasers discharge five thousand volts to carry amps into the target causing neuro-muscular incapacitation. This disrupts the messages between the brain and muscles. Police use this to make a person fall to the floor.
The technique has been successfully deployed to disrupt violent situations and stop suspects from self-harming, attacking the police or others around them.
In 2011 a Goldsmiths student filmed police officers in Brockley who only had plastic dustbins and truncheons to deal with a disturbed man brandishing a large machete.
Earlier this year the Met Police were able to safely use a taser when a man produced a long knife outside Buckingham Palace.
Sergeant Andy Harding, the lead taser trainer for the Metropolitan Police, says tasers could have been used in situations in the past to prevent violence and loss of life.
But Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth warns taser use could lead to an intimidating form of social control and argues its case in an online pamphlet.
Sophie Khan, a solicitor-advocate and Director for the Police Action Centre, outlined the concerns raised by Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth:
The pamphlet states that over five hundred people in the USA have died after being tasered.
But Steve Tuttle, Vice President of Communications of Taser International, the company which makes tasers and distributes them worldwide, says: “[In the US] to date there are approximately 50 cases in which the TASER system was listed as causal, contributory or couldn’t be ruled out in the cause of death.”
He said the statistic used by the campaigners is the number who were in proximity to a taser when they died, but the taser being the cause of their death was dismissed “by medical examiners in the autopsies.”
Another figure used by Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth and others is that between 2008 and 2011 the number of tasers being used on people with emotional and mental problems has increased by ten percent from twenty to thirty percent. The police have not denied this statistic and concern is growing that tasers would be used on vulnerable people.
The Deputy Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, Simon Chesterman, has national responsibility, on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers for armed policing and Taser policy.
He says it is unfortunate that people who are in situations where there is a threat of violence do often have emotional and mental issues and tasers are thought to be the only way that police can control the situation. This is preferred to more aggressive techniques.
Taser Training Day
East London Lines reporter Saskia Black was given access to a Metropolitan Police Taser training session to see how officers are actually trained to use the device and understand what kind of scenarios they are taught to use them in.
The training takes place over three days. The officers who undergo the taser training have been specially chosen by their team Inspector, who deems them suitable candidates to use the device. They have to take an eye exam, a fitness test and safety training before they attend.
After two days of training, they have to participate in scenarios; some in which tasers should be deployed and others where the officers should judge that they should not.
The scenarios involve instances where there are safety concerns, such as being in close proximity to flammable objects. Afterwards, the individual officer’s rationale and judgement are rigorously questioned, and they have to explain and defend their decision using law and policing protocol.
During the training day, Sergeant Andy Harding explained that if a suspect does have mental and/or emotional issues, is branding a weapon seemingly to hurt others, only after the communication has broken down, can the police be justified in using a baton. But batons can cause a lot of bodily harm. The strength and impact of a baton depends on the situation.
It is assumed that in a more stressful situation a baton would be administered with more force. Tasers, Sergeant Andy Harding explains, always cause the same amount of pain, whatever the stress of the situation; a pain that Sergeant Harding himself has felt, as he has been tasered so he can relate to the feeling of it.
Objectors to tasers fear that they could be abused by the police who resort to their use as a compliance tool in petty situations.
But throughout the training day the officers undergoing training were strictly instructed to use tasers only where they could judge and recognise the potential for violence:
1) They use verbal communication in the first instance;
2) If they feel the situation cannot be calmed down using words they then warn the suspect that they have a taser;
3) This warning continues to be given when producing the taser for use;
4) They are trained to deploy it only if necessary and according to a decision making process that is drilled into them during the training.
Sergeant Andy Harding says in real life, police officers would rarely have to deploy them because releasing the taser from its holster is usually enough to calm the situation they are in.
Last year, 25% of officers failed the training.
The training is regarded by the weapon’s manufacturer, Taser International, as world-leading.
However, the fear in Hackney is that some police officers could either forget or ignore this training.
ACPO’s Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman says every time a taser is deployed it stores encrypted data that cannot be deleted by the officer using it, which is then uploaded into the police database and can be analysed by people at various levels in the police system, including the Home Office.
Every deployment on the database needs to be justified as does every time one is released from its holster. If there is any misuse Sergeant Andy Harding is adamant that such conduct would place a police officer’s career in jeopardy.
Advocate-solicitor, Sophie Khan, believes public confidence in Hackney and the rest of London, requires the Met to be open about their use of tasers:
The Met Police would argue that giving an East London Lines reporter full access to a police taser training day is a clear sign that public assurance is something they want to achieve. Deputy Chief Constable Chesterman said he is happy to “get the facts out there” if “people feel like they need more information.”
The Metropolitan Police in Lewisham announced the presence of Taser-trained officers in the Borough 25 March.
Superintendent Michael Gallagher said: “This will be used alongside the baton and CS spray which is carried by all trained operational front line officers. Taser is often less harmful to offenders than striking them with an asp or using CS spray and it is a less lethal option than using a firearm.”
He added: “It is the police officer’s decision as to what equipment to use to remedy any given situation and they must justify its use.”