The police have us in for a shock
HAVE you noticed at the end of Hollywood films, as the credits roll, filmmakers are always keen to state that "no animals were harmed in the making of this movie"? Well, the Scottish Government wants to make us the same assurance with proposals to ban people using electronic training aids on animals. This is good news for Fluffy and Rover but what about us humans?
The Scottish Government launched proposals in September to ban electronic training devices on cats and dogs because there are concerns that their use could conflict with the ban on inflicting unnecessary suffering or causing injury to an animal under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
Unfortunately there has never been an equivalent consultation on the use of electro-shock weapons, called Taser guns, that are used by police forces throughout Scotland. I for one find it alarming that we consult and investigate the use of electronic devices on animals but not those used by the police on human beings.
A Taser is a pistol-shaped device which fires two metal probes at 123 miles an hour that can penetrate up to two inches of clothing and become lodged in the skin. Then, for five seconds, a 50,000-volt shock overrides a person's neurological system, contracting all the muscles in the body, causing enormous pain and sometimes leaving burn marks.
Currently here in Scotland, Tasers are only used by specially trained firearms officers and deployed only as an alternative to a gun. Most people would accept that the police should use a less than lethal alternative to guns and, indeed, Tasers have been deployed in a very small number of incidents in Scotland. According to our research, Tasers have only been discharged operationally by the police in Scotland on six occasions and just once by Lothian and Borders Police.
However, Tasers are legally defined in the UK as weapons of torture. With pilots for extended use in England and Wales and policing organisations repeatedly calling for Tasers to be issued to all officers, Amnesty International is concerned that we are seeing the arming of our police by stealth.
This concern comes from our experience of the misuse of electro-shock weaponry around the world. From June 2001 to September 30 this year, Amnesty International recorded 291 deaths of individuals in the USA and Canada who had been struck by police Tasers. In many of these cases, the coroner listed the use of the Taser as a contributory factor or indeed a direct link to the death. Only 25 individuals appear to have been armed with any sort of weapon when they were electro-shocked; and such weapons did not include guns.
Just last month, it seems that a man was killed after being Tasered in Vancouver Airport. Robert Dziekanski was from Poland, didn't speak English and, after a long flight and hours in the airport, appeared to be distressed and confused. His family's lawyers say that he was Tasered by police just 24 seconds after they approached him. He lost consciousness and died shortly afterwards. An inquest is being held.
The Scottish SPCA demonstrated how electronic training devices for animals work at this year's SNP conference, where they encouraged MSPs to see how it felt to be on the receiving end. South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame was reportedly "astonished by how much it hurt".
Luckily for Ms Grahame, the device she tested would have given her a maximum 4500 volts. Tasers used by the police throughout the UK deliver 50,000 volts.
Amnesty International believes that Tasers should only be used: as an alternative to lethal force where there is an immediate threat of death or very serious injury to officers or others; when officers are trained to firearms standards on an ongoing basis; and when the Scottish Government Justice Department has demonstrated how Tasers will be consistent with its obligations under international human rights guidelines and has procedures in place to prevent misuse.
It is vital that the Scottish Government take a position on this issue; it is not simply an operational matter for the police to decide for themselves, it is a matter for society.
• Naomi McAuliffe is a campaigner for Amnesty International Scotland and is based in Edinburgh.
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