Routinely arming the police with tasers is counterproductive

by Gill Marshall-Andrews on 13-02-2015


The Police Federation have recently called for the arming of all police officers with a Taser. This is said to be necessary in order to protect them from potential murder attempts by terrorists.

They say they will be safer if they all carry a Taser. However, it is not clear that this would be so; indeed there is some evidence that police who carry firearms might be in greater danger than those who do not. In the US, for example, police are frequently ambushed for their weapons. The duty of the police should be, above anything else including their own safety, to protect the public, yet a consequence of the routine arming of the police would be to increase the likelihood of members of the public being shot with Tasers.

Can all police officers be trusted to handle a lethal weapon appropriately? Even trained firearms officers misuse their weapons, as highlighted by an incident in Nottingham in October 2014 when a police machine gun was discharged with live ammunition at a public event, injuring a 7-year-old girl. Three police officers have been served with gross misconduct notices.

A Taser is a firearm, a prohibited weapon under the Firearms Act 1968, and can be lethal. There have already been fatalities following incidents in which someone was tasered by police officers (see below), and there is little doubt that the routine carrying of Tasers would mean more incidents of this sort.

So is this really what the Police Federation want?

  • A change in the relationship between police and the public.

  • More suspects and innocent people killed or injured by police Taser.

  • A sharp increase in the police use of Tasers. Tasers were already being used on more than 10,000 occasions in 2013 – a rise of 27% on 2012.

  • A new market created for Tasers as criminals upgrade their weaponry to keep pace with the police the consequence of which could be more police killed or injured in the line of duty.

Gill Marshall-Andrews, Chair of the Gun Control Network, says:

“The basis of good modern policing is intelligence and trust. It is clear that the routine arming of police with guns and Tasers will lead to a deterioration of both these things. The public will no longer feel the police are on their side if there is now the possibility, however remote, of being shot by any police officer. They won’t trust them because they find guns intimidating.

Arming the police is a one way street. It will never be reversed. In this country we have a unique and valued relationship with our police and we must protect that. Of course some officers need firearms training and there are some situations in which they will need to be armed with guns and Tasers but this must always be the last resort. The Police Federation are not serving their members well by arguing for them all to be armed routinely. They are in fact putting them, and us, in danger”.

Since GCN began collecting data about Taser incidents in 2009, we have recorded 456 serious incidents reported in the media. The following is a selection of recent incidents.

24 December 2014
A man died after police shot him with a 50,000-volt Taser gun during an alleged burglary at a flat in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. Officers responding to reports of a break-in shot the victim and placed him in a police car, but he shortly lost consciousness and could not be revived despite treatment by emergency workers.

10 November 2014
A 34-year-old man with mental health problems died after being tasered by police in Gwent.

29 January 2014
An extensive search is underway after a Police Taser Gun was lost in Great Windsor Park. A Police Officer has been suspended.

26 April 2013
A man died from severe burns after he was a shot with a Taser gun by a police officer while covered in flammable liquid at an address in Plymouth, Devon. Officers were called to the house after the 32-year-old was seen holding a can of flammable liquid in the garden of the property. A Taser was deployed and he suffered serious burns, and although he was taken to hospital he died five days later from his injuries. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has begun an investigation into the incident.

12 July 2013
A 23-year man died after being tasered by police at his home in Gorton, Manchester. The man’s mother dialled 999 because her son was involved in a row with a neighbour.