Avon population

Taser use by police has doubled in four years in the Bristol area as more officers are allowed to carry the devices

The number of times police officers in Avon and Somerset have used Tasers has doubled in the past four years as the government seeks to increase the availability of the devices in what has been called a ‘worrying erosion of safeguards “. Police in Avon and Somerset have used Tasers more than 1,300 times in the last year, and it has been announced that volunteer officers should be armed with stun guns.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced at the Police Federation conference on Tuesday May 17 that special constables will now be allowed to carry Tasers, if cleared by their senior officers. The volunteers will receive the same Taser training as the gendarmes. There are approximately 8,900 volunteer officers in England and Wales, who have the same credentials and uniforms as paid officers.

But statistics show Taser use has increased among officers in the Bristol area. In 2020/21, the most recent figures available, police officers in Avon and Somerset used Tasers 1,316 times, compared to 1,078 in 2019/20, 733 in 2018/19 and 643 in 2017/18.

Read more: Brislington ‘murder’ inquiry: Two more arrested while seven remain in custody

This is despite the pandemic and repeated closures, which have seen many types of crime plummet. Tasers, the brand name for conductive energy devices, can deliver a high-voltage shock to temporarily incapacitate a suspect.

However, in most uses in Avon and Somerset (881), the Taser was not discharged. Non-discharge uses include 120 where the Taser was fired, 82 where it was aimed at a person, 644 where it was activated to place a red targeting dot on a person, and 35 where it was arched, where the trigger is squeezed so that electric current arcs between the two contact points on the front of the Taser.

However, in 153 incidents in 2020/21 the Taser was discharged, including 136 where the Taser was fired from a distance and 17 where it was triggered on contact with a person. Most uses of Tasers by Avon and Somerset Police involve adults.

However, in 2020/21 there were five incidents where Tasers were discharged against children between the ages of 11 and 17, and 62 where Tasers were used but not discharged. The Home Office said allowing special constables to carry Tasers will ensure they are not “disadvantaged against a knife-wielding attacker or a marauding terrorist”.

Tasers were introduced in the UK in 2003, initially restricted to firearms officers. Their use was extended in 2008, to non-gunsmiths who complete the required training.

According to Home Office figures, Tasers were used 34,429 times in 2020/21, compared to 32,058 times in 2019/20, 23,451 in 2018/19 and 16,913. In 2009 figures show 3,128 uses of Tasers , although figures may not be fully comparable due to changes in registration.

While taser use has increased, crime levels have generally declined since the late 1990s. According to estimates from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), crime is up 18% in 2021 compared to 2019.

However, the increase is due to fraud and offenses related to the misuse of computers, with crime excluding these having decreased by 13% compared to 2019. CSEW figures show that incidents violent crimes fell 8% in 2021, while crimes involving knives and sharp instruments fell 4%.

Amnesty International police expert Oliver Feeley-Sprague said: “The arming of volunteer officers is a dangerous expansion of Taser use and will inevitably lead to an increase in Taser firing. We understand that specials will undergo rigorous assessment before being selected to undergo Taser training, but arming volunteers who receive less training overall and put in fewer hours on the job is a worrying erosion of safeguards. against Taser misuse.”

The Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) conducted a review of Taser uses between 2015 and 2020, looking at incidents where they were discharged. He found examples of Tasers being used in potentially dangerous places or circumstances, and found evidence that officers failed to give sufficient consideration to the potential risk of injury to individuals.

A quarter of cases reviewed saw Tasers used for compliance, and in just under a third of cases potential missed opportunities were identified for officers to defuse situations. The IOPC Fund is concerned about the increasing use of Tasers on children (11-17) and vulnerable people with mental health or drug and alcohol problems.

The IOPC also said concerns about racial discrimination and disproportionality are one of the most common issues raised by community groups and stakeholders with regards to Taser use. He recommended the College of Policing ensure that Taser training provides officers with an understanding of racial disproportionality in Taser use.

In the IOPC review, 22 (22%) of people involved in independent surveys were black, although black people make up less than four percent (4%) of the population. In the cases they looked at, black people were proportionally less likely to have been Tasered than white people, but were more likely to be involved in cases where the Taser was aimed or pointed. in red.

However, when black people were Tasered, they were more likely to be Tasered for prolonged periods. 29% of whites involved in Taser discharges were subjected to continuous discharges lasting more than five seconds, while the figure was 60% for blacks.

A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset Constabulary said: ‘Officer safety is paramount and it is essential that we equip them with the skills and tools to perform their jobs effectively and without fear of harm. Policing can be dangerous and although we regularly face difficult and hostile situations, no one should come to work for fear of being attacked.

“We take an evidence-based approach to deciding how many officers carry Tasers based on current threat and risk levels. We currently have 664 Taser-trained officers in Avon and Somerset (not including firearms officers).

“All Taser-equipped officers are highly trained and go through a rigorous screening process. This training emphasizes use of force, decision making, officer safety training and first aid.

“We were also the first force in the country to introduce de-escalation training for all frontline personnel, which equips officers with the skills to de-escalate hostile situations through negotiation. Tasers are a last line of defense and are only triggered when absolutely necessary.

“We regularly publish our statistics on the use of force while the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Police Powers Review Board, which is an independent group made up of people from all of our communities, monitors and reviews the use of police powers – including cases involving the use of Tasers. This independent oversight and review ensures transparency and accountability.