Criminals to face shock treatment
SCOTTISH police are poised to introduce Taser guns within months after trials of the controversial weapon proved a massive success.
Officers already trained to use firearms will be issued with the new weapon to use as an alternative to live ammunition in an effort to reduce the chances of incidents such as the shooting of Jenny Marr in Kirknewton last year.
Ian Gordon, Scotland’s most senior officer in charge of firearms policy, has been impressed with trials of the Taser gun in England and Wales, and is to recommend that Scotland’s eight forces equip themselves with the weapons.
The M26 Taser, which has been used in the trials, fires needle-tipped darts into the human body from as far away as 21ft. They then pass a 50,000-volt current into the body of the targeted person, delivering a brief paralysing shock.
The US-made weapons are considered a ‘less lethal’ alternative to conventional firearms, but human rights organisations and opposition groups have voiced fears over the technology, claiming the device has claimed lives in the past and could be open to misuse.
While no Scottish force took part in the year-long trials, police chiefs from north of the Border have been part of the group monitoring the trials’ progress and Scottish firearms officers have tested the equipment.
Gordon, who is Deputy Chief Constable for Tayside Police and ACPOS spokesman on firearms and protective equipment, said: "To be quite honest, the evidence available so far is that Tasers are highly effective.
"Scotland has been part of the trial, although the devices have not been deployed in any of our forces. We have had officers taking part in sessions involving the Taser.
"The situation is that the trial has proved very useful, but it has been restricted to those times when we would normally have needed firearms."
Gordon said that the training of individual officers to use the device would take "less than a few weeks". He added: "The Taser could be of great use and of great effect, even in cases where a firearm was not involved.
"I can think of many more situations where we deploy the police support unit who can deal with conflict in closed areas. So if someone is barricaded in and there’s no suggestion of a firearm, it is situations like that where a Taser may be useful."
The Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office has been poring over the weapon, produced by Arizona-based Taser International, for the last two years, analysing its effectiveness and testing its safety.
During the trials, the Tasers were used only by specialist firearms officers in situations where they faced armed suspects, and were deployed around 50 times between May 2003 and February this year.
Human rights groups have expressed worries about the safety and appropriate use of the new weapons.
In the US, at least 40 people have died after being hit with Taser guns. The company that produces the weapons said other factors - such as medical conditions or incapacitation due to drink or drugs - were to blame for the deaths.
John Watson, Scottish programme director for Amnesty International, said there was potential for the weapons to be misused. He cited the example of Canadian police who used Tasers to control crowds during an anti-capitalism demonstration in Ottawa two years ago.
Watson said: "We have been monitoring this for quite a number of years. Tasers have caused deaths in the past and serious injuries, and should therefore be treated as lethal weapons.
"We are worried that these weapons could be used for other areas of policing. There have been examples in the past where they have been used for crowd control, which we consider cruel and humiliating.
"There must be clear criteria for when they can and cannot be used."
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP justice spokeswoman, said that she had grave concerns about the new weapon being adopted by police without public debate.
"I’m very sceptical that we should be using weapons like that in Scotland unless there is a proven need for them.
"There has to be a balance of police officers’ requirements and public safety.
"I am not aware of a huge body of police opinion calling for these weapons, and I would be very concerned if there was no public discussions before this step was taken."
However, the Scottish Executive said that the decision to introduce new armoury was solely down to chief constables and that there would be no public consultation on the matter.
"Tasers, if introduced, would be likely to be used in a very limited number of circumstances by specially trained police officers," a spokeswoman said.
In September last year, all Scottish police forces brought in baton guns to be used by specialist firearms officers, although a single round has yet to be fired by police. The ammunition, known as baton rounds, uses a plastic compound which is shaped into a blunt projectile.
The baton rounds are a less-lethal alternative to firearms, but they can still cause fatal wounds if they strike a suspect’s head or chest area.
The development comes as police across the country search for less injurious methods of stopping violent criminals.
In one such case, Jenny Marr was shot in the stomach by armed police officers outside her home in Kirknewton, West Lothian.
Although she went on to make a full recovery, it was claimed that officers did not respond properly when she failed to put down an air pistol that she was brandishing.
Among other new weapons that have been tested by police in the United States are glue guns, which tie up their targets in sticky paste, lasers to dazzle criminals and a noise machine that can calm or frighten angry mobs.
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