Over 150 referrals of Taser use in 2013

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) recently published a review of complaints and incidents of Taser use by police forces across England and Wales. It emerged that 154 referrals were made in 2013 alone, either consisting of complaints by members of the public, or as as a result of a death, serious injury or another reason for voluntary referral by the police. Although this represents a small proportion of the 10,380 uses of Taser during the same year, a worrying trend has been revealed, consisting of firing the weapon at point blank range.

IPCC concerned over use of “drive stun” mode

Tasers, which were introduced into British policing in 2003, use an electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles. They are generally fired from a distance, propelling two small dart-like electrodes designed to incapacitate a fleeing suspect. However, police Tasers also have something known as “drive stun” capability which allows it to be held against the target without firing the projectiles, causing pain but not incapacity. The use of Tasers in drive stun mode has been raised as a particular worry by the commission, with Commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone warning that “The IPCC has major concerns about the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode, where the Taser is applied directly to the body without a cartridge rather than fired from a distance. When used in this way it is purely a means of pain compliance. Yet in several of the cases we reviewed, where it was used for the purpose of gaining compliance, it had the opposite effect, stimulating further resistance.”

Lack of training

The IPCC noted that police officers are no longer trained to use Tasers in drive stun mode despite being told about this functionality, a situation which they described as “counter-intuitive”. However, Neil Basu from the Association of Chief Police Officers defended this approach, arguing that providing information about the drive stun option “cannot be completely removed from training as there may be emergency circumstances where it is needed.” He suggested an example where this might be necessary, in the case of an officer who missed their target and didn’t have time to reload the weapon with a new cartridge. He also noted that the IPCC report did not differentiate between drive stun and something known as “angled drive stun” technique – involving firing a Taser with a live cartridge installed and then holding it against a different part of the target’s body to cause incapacitation – which he described as a viable tactic.