Scots police want 'killer' Taser guns
THE senior police officer in charge of Scotland’s firearms policy is pressing for the introduction of the controversial Taser stun-gun, despite an investigation in the United States which links the weapon to at least 50 deaths.
Ian Gordon, the Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside, told The Scotsman he has been impressed with trials of the gun in England and Wales and wants Scotland’s eight constabularies to equip themselves with it as soon as possible.
A report by Mr Gordon calling for the introduction of the weapon will be presented to the September meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS). It is understood that a number of Scottish officers have used Tasers in training exercises and that they could be issued with the new weapons as soon as December.
The M26 Taser gun fires a needle-tipped dart which delivers a 50,000-volt shock to the body. It has been on trial in five constabularies, including the Metropolitan Police, since April last year as a "less lethal" alternative to conventional firearms.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has put plans to expand the introduction of the gun on hold pending further investigations, while in the US, an investigation by the New York Times this week linked Tasers to six deaths in June alone. Several experts are concerned about the level of shock given and questioned the research carried out before their introduction.
But Mr Gordon said: "The evidence available so far is that Tasers are highly effective. The situation is that the trial has proved very useful."
The Deputy Chief Constable believes the stun-guns provide police with a less lethal option by delivering an electrical current that interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system, temporarily incapacitating the subject and thus reducing the need for officers to engage the subjects at close range.
"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 they may be a risk of collateral injury to others," he said. "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."
However, the manufacturer, Taser International, has seen its shares plummet in recent weeks after renewed allegations that the supposedly non-lethal weapon can kill.
The New York Times investigation said that safety studies on the M26 consisted of tests on five dogs and a pig, that Taser International researchers carried out the work rather than independent scientists and that the company has no full-time medical director. Taser International claims drink or drugs were often the primary cause of death in the cases blamed on its weapon.
John Watson, the Scottish programme director for Amnesty International, said there was potential for misuse. "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," he said.
"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."
The Home Office has been examining the safety of Tasers for two years. During trials, they were used only by specialist firearms officers in situations where they faced armed suspects and were deployed about 50 times between May 2003 and June this year.
A decision on the future of the Taser in England and Wales is expected within the next month. Mr Blunkett is thought to be considering a number of appeals against the use of the weapons by civil liberties campaigners, including Gareth Crossman, the head of policy at Liberty, who cited US research that the gun is extremely dangerous for those with weak hearts.
A Home Office spokesman said: "After a series of police trials in five key areas, we are looking at all the evidence both in favour and against the use of Tasers, after which we will decide whether to expand the use of the weapons to other constabularies within the UK."
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