Armed policing: could Tasers be the start?

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SOUTH Yorkshire Police, defended the use of Tasers this week after they revealed they have trained 230 non-firearm officers to use them.

The force, which has used them 23 times in the past year is acting on Home Office Guidelines issued in 2009.

They describe the Taser as a “safe and effective way of gaining control of a violent incident quickly and minimising the risks to all present.”

Supt Liz Watson said: “Extending the number of officers carrying Taser has been successful and is helping to keep South Yorkshire residents safe.

“In most cases aiming the red dot from the Taser at a person is enough to stop their dangerous intentions and to allow officers to gain control and make the situation safe for everyone present.”

But the use of Tasers has been condemned by respected international authorities and movements.

A United Nations comittee has ruled that Tasers constitute a “form of torture” and “can even cause death.”

Human rights charity Amnesty International also said they were “concerned” by South Yorkshire Police’s increased use of the weapon.

There have been 76 incidents where a person has been “red dotted” - the warning stage prior to a discharge.

One example South Yorkshire Police cited to justify the use of Tasers was saving the life of a suicidal Sheffield woman last year.

The grieving mother was holding a large kitchen knife to her throat in her kitchen and had made threats to kill herself.

Officers shot her with the Taser and she was detained before being taken to hospital for treatment.

On another occasion, police were called to deal with a man who had taken an overdose and assaulted a paramedic.

He was also threatening other crew members with an eight-inch knife and when police arrived said he was going to cut himself.

The man would not co-operate with officers, who then shot him with a Taser. He was taken to hospital and later discharged.

Critics of Tasers claim they can be potentially deadly.

Following a series of Taser-related deaths in North America, the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture conducted an investigation in 2007.

The committee of ten experts ruled that Tasers cause acute pain, “constituting a form of torture.”

“In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events.”

Amnesty International’s Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague told the times : “We’re concerned at the increased number of stun guns being issued to officers across South Yorkshire.

“People have died after being shocked with Tasers. As a result, these weapons should be only be used in a limited set of circumstances and by a restricted number of officers who undergo the same level of rigorous training as specialist firearms officers.

“Tasers should only be used in genuinely life-threatening circumstances or where there is risk of very serious injury. We don’t want to see these weapons being used regularly on our streets.”

Could the accepted use of Tasers become the prelude to gun toting policemen on the beat in south Yorkshire?

The Taser revelations surfaced just a week after a debate about armed policemen patroling in Mexborough was ignited by inspector Ray Mountford at a police community meeting.

He asked the audience of about 25 people if having armed officers would be a good idea.

A majority said they were in favour, though eight people said they were against it.

The inspector said he did not want an armed police presence to “send the wrong message out”, but vowed to consider asking “top brass” if the specialist officers could be brought into Mexborough when available.

Following that meeting, Mexborough councillor Sue Phillips admitted she felt “uneasy” about armed police and said she would be “monitoring the situation” closely.

* What do you think about police using Tasers – maybe you have even experienced being shot by one?

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