Scots police to be armed with stun guns
CONTROVERSIAL Taser stun guns will be available to specially trained police officers in Scotland by the end of the year.
Firearms officers north of the Border will be allowed to use the electronic stun guns, which fire wires from compressed nitrogen cartridges and deliver 50,000-volt shocks to suspects, from as early as December after both the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, gave their full backing to the introduction of the weapons.
The plan to introduce the weapons on trial in Scotland, in consultation with the Scottish Executive, was revealed yesterday by sources within ACPOS, which is in charge of the nation’s firearms policy and has spent the past year pressing the government for the introduction of the controversial weapons - despite an investigation in the United States which linked stun guns to at least 50 deaths.
The source said: "The evidence available so far is that Tasers are highly effective and that the trials down south have proved very useful, and the fact that the weapons have received the full backing of the Home Office and David Blunkett in particular is a positive step in the right direction.
"As a result ACPOS has now backed their introduction in Scotland and we would hope to have trials under way by the end of the year."
Ian Gordon, the Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside, recently revealed that senior officers in Scotland believed the limited introduction of the weapon would be beneficial to policing. He said the stun guns provided police with a non-lethal option by delivering an electrical current that interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system, temporarily incapacitating the suspect and reducing the need for officers to engage the suspects at close range.
He said: "The Taser is suited to incidents where an individual is violent and is difficult to approach and restrain. It may provide a good alternative to baton guns and incapacitant sprays in confined areas of action where there may be a risk of collateral injury to others.
"On a personal note, I believe there is a place for Taser in the police armoury, which I base on the evidence that the deployment of the weapon in the trials has invariably led to a positive result."
The hand-held Taser device fires twin needle-tipped darts up to 21ft. Five forces in England and Wales have been trying out Tasers during the past year.
One of the most striking findings of the pilot study carried out south of the Border was that although officers deployed Tasers during 60 incidents and aimed them during 40, they fired them on only 13 occasions, because the presence alone of the weapons was enough to obtain compliance.
The Home Secretary claimed that scientific evaluations showed that the US-made M26 Tasers, which can penetrate clothing 2in thick, had a "very low" risk of causing death.
Michael Tonge, the Gwent chief constable, and conflict management spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in England and Wales, which worked closely with the Home Office on the trials, said that he believed Tasers provided officers with a valuable tool and can only further improve public safety.
But despite the UK interest in the weapons, the manufacturer, Taser International, has seen its shares plummet in recent weeks after renewed allegations that the supposedly non-lethal weapon can kill. Taser International claims drink or drugs were often the primary cause of death in the 50 fatalities blamed on its weapon in the United States.
Last night a spokesman for the SNP urged the police to take note of the problems with the weapons in the US. He said: "These weapons have been linked to a large number of fatalties. Considering they are being introduced as a safer option than convential guns caution must be used with the introduction of Tasers in Scotland."
John Watson, the Scottish programme director for Amnesty International, also expressed concern last night that there was potential for misuse with the weapons.
He said: "We have been monitoring this for a number of years. Tasers have caused deaths in the past and serious injuries, and should be treated as lethal weapons.
"We are worried these weapons could be used for other areas of policing. There have been examples where they have been used for crowd control, which we consider cruel and humiliating. There must be clear criteria for their use."
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