Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Police to be armed with stun guns

Taser stun gun
Tasers have been fired more than 1,000 times since 2004

Up to 30,000 police officers across all forces in England and Wales are to be trained to use Taser stun guns.

Currently, only specialist firearms officers carry the weapon, which can temporarily disable a suspect.

Now the government has announced plans to buy 10,000 more Tasers and extend their use to all frontline officers.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said police needed tools to protect themselves and the public. Amnesty International is warning against using Tasers routinely.

The Home Office plans to spend 8m on 10,000 new Tasers.

'Dangerous people'

Ms Smith said: "I am proud that we have one of the few police services around the world that do not regularly carry firearms and I want to keep it that way.

"But every day the police put themselves in danger to protect us, the public.

"They deserve our support, so I want to give the police the tools they tell me they need to confront dangerous people.

"That is why I am giving the police 10,000 Tasers to ensure that officers across the country benefit from this form of defence."

Just how many officers will end up using the Taser guns is being disputed.

The Home Office says that a maximum 30,000 officers will be able to use the weapons, assuming there are three shifts per police working day.

But the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), described these figures as "misleading".

Acpo insists only around 5,000 additional officers would be using Tasers.

Electric shock

Experts say Tasers are a less dangerous alternative to conventional firearms.

Two barbed darts trailing wires are fired from a special gun, which then delivers a powerful electric shock, temporarily incapacitating the suspect.

How tasers work graphic

Officers in England and Wales have fired the 50,000-volt stun guns more than 1,000 times since 2004.

According to BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw , there are 2,000 Tasers currently available for police in England and Wales.

About 6,500 firearms officers can use them, plus police response officers in the ten pilot forces.

The announcement to extend their use follows a year-long pilot scheme which saw Tasers issued to frontline officers in 10 police forces.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said the pilot had not led to a big rise in complaints by the public.

But it has called better guidance and training for police when Tasers were used in 'drive-stun' mode (directly against the body), because this generated the most complaints.

The Home Office says that before the new Tasers are issued, all officers who use them will need to attend an 18-hour training course, spread over two to three days.

They will also be required to attend an annual "refresher" course to keep them up to date with developments.

Alan Campbell, Home Office minister responsible for crime reduction, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government had taken independent medical advice and that Tasers were "low risk".

He said: "They're used under very strict circumstances and there are very clear guidelines.

"Last year they were only used on 93 occasions out of the more than 600 that they were deployed. We don't expect them to be used as a weapon of choice routinely.

"I am sure one of the intentions is to make sure we don't need to use guns as often."

The Home Office is funding the Tasers, but the cost of training officers to use them will be paid by individual police forces.

The decision to extend their use has been welcomed by Acpo and by the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers.


Police use a Taser stun gun to apprehend a man

Acpo's spokesman, and the assistant chief constable of Northamptonshire Police, Derek Talbot, said trials showed in the majority of cases Tasers helped police resolve incidents without resorting to a weapon.

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the move recognised the "vital role" the weapons played in the fight against crime.

He said Tasers were an "effective and "less lethal alternative" to firearms.

But Oliver Sprague, of Amnesty International UK, told the BBC's Today programme the organisation's research indicated more than 320 people had died in the US since 2001 after they were "Tasered".

Ministers say they "do not recognise" Amnesty's fatality figures.

Mr Sprague said Amnesty was especially concerned about the welfare of vulnerable people who had "emotional" problems or were under the influence of drugs.

Registered training

He said: "Amnesty is not opposed to the use of Tasers but they should be limited."

Describing the plans to extend the use of Tasers as "extreme", he said: "No matter how intensive the training is, the officers will only have had two days' worth."

He called on the home secretary to review her decision and restrict the use of Tasers to a small number of fully-trained officers.

I'd rather the police were armed with taser stun guns than actual guns and ammunition
Jeff Mason, UK

Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik told Radio 5live he did not believe the weapons should be made available to ordinary officers.

"We're talking about increasing the firepower of the police in a way that I think brutalises the entire service," he said.

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