Police must be held to public account for their deployment
THE decision by Lothian and Borders Police to arm officers with Taser guns will be met with alarm in many quarters.
The move is not unexpected falling hard on the heels of the decision last month by their Strathclyde counterparts to become the first unit in the country to opt to hand out the controversial weapons. Ever since Home Secretary David Blunkett gave his approval for their use in September last year most forces have been keen to deploy them.
Taser guns have been described by organisations such as Amnesty International as "barbaric". The weapon is capable of firing twin darts into the body at ranges of up to 20 feet allowing insulated copper cables to deliver a body-slamming 50,000 volts of electricity, completely incapacitating the target. Last month police used such a device to disable a man carrying a package who approached an aircraft at Manchester Airport. Most would agree such action was justified but those who object to Tasers say that in practice police are not so discerning in deciding when their usage is appropriate.
Tasers have been blamed for more than 100 deaths in the US and Canada, and campaigners cite examples of them being used on a nine-year-old girl, a partially sighted man and a 71-year old woman. They argue that in many quarters they have become a routine force option rather than, like a firearm, a weapon of last resort.
While no-one would deny the police the right to defend and protect themselves and the public, Taser deployment must be strictly controlled and only used once other less harmful methods of restraint have been considered.
Officers already have a variety of means at their disposal by which to restrict the movements of most unwilling suspects they wish to apprehend, ranging from training in the use of restraining techniques and handcuffs to batons and CS gas for who oppose detention more vigorously. For added protection most now wear body armour to protect themselves against those armed with knives.
Police argue that Taser guns provide them with an effective and less lethal alternative to firearms.
But use of both weapons can only be condoned in exceptional circumstances where an officer or members of the public are in immediate danger, and to deter improper use police must be held to public account for their deployment.
Firework usage must be more strictly controlled
AS Bonfire Night rolls around menacingly near once more, retailers should beware lest they have more reason than normal to remember the fifth of November.
City council trading standards officers will mount their usual sting operations this year in a bid to capture those who illegally sell fireworks to minors . . . and for the first time will have the power to prosecute those who flout the law. That's bad news for the one-third of licensed firework sellers in the city who were caught in a similar sting operation last year.
As fireworks become more powerful their usage must be more strictly controlled. Shopkeepers willing to sell them to children simply demonstrate a startling lack of social responsibility and are exposing not only the youngsters themselves, but the general public, to unnecessary risk.
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