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The public are asking more questions now than ever before about the police use of Taser and what it means for policing and protecting the public.
There are many different views on it, and it is regularly debated and discussed in the media and across social media.
We believe it’s important for the public to have the facts around Taser to help with that discussion, which is why we have drawn up a list of the most frequently asked questions for the public and media to use.
The guidance on use of Taser is continually reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose and this Q&A will be updated as more issues arise.
– National Policing Lead for Taser, Commander Neil Basu
Frequently asked questions
- When was Taser introduced?
- Is every police officer given a Taser?
- Why use Taser at all?
- What happens to someone when Taser is used on them?
- After Taser is used on someone, are the medical implications taken into account?
- Who is responsible for training officers?
- What happens if someone on illicit drugs is Tasered?
- What happens if someone with a heart problem or other medical condition is Tasered?
- What happens if someone is Tasered more than once?
- Why has there been an increase in the use of Taser?
- Why has Taser got a bad reputation when police say it’s so good?
- Why is Taser used in Custody areas?
- Why is Taser used on people who are mentally ill or who are vulnerable?
- Can Taser be used on children?
- What is ‘drive stun’?
- Are complaints involving Taser taken seriously?
- How are officers selected to become Taser officers?
- How do forces monitor Taser use?
- Why does Taser use vary greatly from force to force?
- Taser has killed people. How can you say it is safe?
- How do officers make a decision to use Taser?
- What Is The National Decision Model for?
- Tasers have been called ‘50,000 volt stun guns’. Are people shocked with 50,000 volts?
- 1,500 volts is still a high voltage. Why doesn’t this harm people?
- How do Tasers work?
- Is it true that police plan to introduce new types of CED?
- How can police be confident the right amount of current comes out of a Taser?
- If the current Taser works, why do we need new ones?
- There has been some concern about Taser being used on the chest. Why do police aim there?
- It has been said that officers using Taser receive training for only three days. Is that enough?
- But why don’t Taser officers get the same amount of training as firearms officers?
1. When was Taser introduced?
In 2004, following a trial in five forces, it was agreed to allow chief officers of all police forces in England and Wales to make Taser available to authorised firearms officers.
In July 2007 authorised police firearms officers were allowed to use Taser in a greater set of circumstances. These officers are now able to deploy Taser in operations or incidents where the use of firearms is not authorised, but where they are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the subject.
It was also announced in July 2007 that the deployment of Taser by specially trained police units who are not firearms officers, but who are facing similar threats of violence, would be trialled in ten police forces.
The 12-month trial commenced on 1 September 2007 and finished on 31 August 2008. It took place in the following forces: Avon & Somerset, Devon & Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales and West Yorkshire.
Following the success of the trial, from 1 December 2008, Taser use was extended to specially trained units.
2. Is every police officer given a Taser?
Every chief constable makes a decision, based on an assessment of the risks in their own area, to train and deploy a proportionate number of officers to use Taser so that the public are kept safe and their officers are protected as far as possible.
Every use of Taser is reported and scrutinised and officers are individually accountable to the law for the amount of force they use. Not everyone will be trained in Taser. A minimum standard amongst all Taser trained officers is;A minimum standard amongst all Taser trained officers is; police first aid trained, eyesight test, professional standards record check, officer safety trained (knowledge of and training in law, self defence and restraint).
3. Why use Taser at all?
Taser provides an additional option to resolve situations, including the threat of violence, which can come from any section of the public. In certain circumstances, the use of Taser is more appropriate than other use of force options in resolving dangerous situations safely and with less risk of serious injury. In addition, officers who are trained and equipped with Taser must decide on the most reasonable and necessary use of force in the circumstances. The level of force used must be proportionate to achieve the objective and officers are individually accountable in law for the amount of force they use on a person.
The alternatives to Taser include a range of other measures such as physical restraint, batons and police dogs. Much will depend upon the circumstances, but Taser will often be less injurious than resorting to baton strikes or deployment of a police dog. In the majority of cases involving Taser, the mere threat of its use has been enough to defuse a situation and ensure a peaceful resolution of the incident.
4. What happens to someone when Taser is used on them?
The normal reaction of a person exposed to the discharge of a Taser is pain, coupled with the loss of some voluntary muscle control resulting in the subject falling to the ground or freezing on the spot. Recovery from these effects of the Taser should be almost instantaneous, once the discharge is complete. In addition to this, anyone who is arrested after being subjected to Taser is examined by a medical professional.
5. After Taser is used on someone, are the medical implications taken into account?
Yes. The medical implications associated with Taser are closely monitored by an independent panel of medical advisers who also monitor the learning from across the world. This enables continuous review of the guidance to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. In addition, the Authorised Professional Practice is supported by a detailed training curriculum which is delivered to all Taser officers who receive and annual refresher course.
6. Who is responsible for training officers?
Officers are trained by their own, in-force trainers. All forces have a lead instructor (some more than one) who is trained by a small team of National Instructors governed by the College Of Policing.
7. What happens if someone on illicit drugs is Tasered?
Drug use is a common cause of violent, dangerous and unpredictable behaviour, and Tasers can be a useful tool in safely subduing drug affected people who might otherwise be very difficult to restrain. Other more traditional methods can lead to injury to both the person and officers.
8. What happens if someone with a heart problem or other medical condition is Tasered?
Officers won’t always know the people they are faced with or their medical history. The officers still have to deal with the circumstances presented to them. Some people who are violent may have a condition that not even they are aware of. What is important, is that the officer deals with any threat in a proportionate manner and only uses that force which is necessary in the circumstances. If an officer becomes aware that the person they are dealing with is suffering from a condition, they will treat the person as a medical emergency and get them to hospital.
9. What happens if someone is Tasered more than once?
Sometimes a longer period of Taser discharge is needed when a person continues to be violent after the initial taser discharge.People who have taken illicit stimulant drugs may fall into this category. However, Taser officers are trained to always use the minimum duration of discharge necessary to bring a violent situation to a close. Usually a single 5-second (or shorter) discharge is sufficient.
10. Why has there been an increase in the use of Taser?
Taser use across the UK has increased due to more officers being trained and more Tasers deployed on the streets. This has been carried out in a structured way within each force area. The comprehensive training packages, governance and monitoring are in place and its availability is documented in each force area’s threat and risk assessment. The Taser deployments across the UK including training and governance are monitored by the National Less Lethal weapons secretariat which is led by Commander Neil Basu
11. Why has Taser got a bad reputation when police say it’s so good?
This is a complex question. Other countries have deployed Taser in circumstances that some may see as questionable. This has resulted in negative press coverage and public concern has been raised through human rights groups such as Amnesty International. There is no doubt that, internationally, a number of deaths have occurred in association with Taser use. However, the role that the Taser played in these deaths is disputed, with coroners citing serious underlying medical conditions, drug use, or other force used by the police as being causal or contributory to the deaths. When dealing with seriously violent people, the police recognise that many types of force carry risk , and these include physical restraint, baton strikes, impact rounds, police dogs and irritant sprays, as well as the Taser. Nevertheless, perhaps partly because the Taser works ‘mysteriously’ by injecting electrical pulses into the body, the device is highly controversial. The Taser offers the police a means of bringing a situation under control from a safe distance. In the main, the effect of Taser is more consistent and predictable than many other types of force that the police might need to use. It is for these reasons that the police find the Taser a useful option to have. Only firearms officers and other specially selected and trained officers are permitted to carry and use Taser.
12. Why is Taser used in Custody areas?
Custody is a secure environment!
Custody can be a volatile and dangerous area. It is often the place where the reason for the arrest becomes more evident due to searches and the exposure of drugs and other such items. This can cause a violent reaction. It is in these situations where the Police are responding to the violence confronting them. There is no way of knowing if or when this will occur. Officers are bound by the law and as such must justify the use of Taser if it is used. Taser is a tactical option that affords a police officer distance when dealing with a violent or potentially violent person. This is good for the officers, the intended subject and anyone else in the vicinity. It is not acceptable that an officer uses a Taser to facilitate a procedure , for example using Taser to force a prisoner to give their fingerprints when they offer passive resistance. If the prisoner displays violence then use of Taser may be justified and the taking of fingerprints is, in effect, suspended whilst the violent incident is dealt with. Once this has been bought under control the process of taking fingerprints can resume.
13. Why is Taser used on people who are mentally ill or who are vulnerable?
Taser is used in situations of violence and potential violence. Police have a duty to prevent situations from turning violent, to protect the public and themselves. On 80% of occasions when officers are presented with violence or potential violence, the mere presence of the Taser is enough to bring that situation to a swift conclusion without the need for any physical force to be used. In such dynamic situations, officers aren’t always going to know what the person’s background or medical history are. It is in these instances the officers use their experience and training to make a decision as to what use of force option to use. If immediate action is needed and Taser is deployed, following the situation calming down, officers will make sure the individual is given immediate medical attention if needed which includes hospital if necessary. The priority is to remove the risk the person presents to themselves and others with the least intrusive options.
14. Can Taser be used on children?
There is no lower or upper limit on the age of the person that Taser can be used upon. However officers are taught that there may be an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia and barb penetration in children and thin adults. A child is classed as someone under the age of 18. Lots of violent crime is carried out by people under the age of 18, indeed a recent survey of statistics in London revealed that only a few people had been tasered in this age bracket and they were involved in violent crime, armed with weapons etc. An officer has to justify their use of Taser to the standard of the criminal court. Taser may be used in such circumstances and can be less injurious than a baton strike or other forms of force. As said before only 20% of cases result in the Taser being fired.
15. What is ‘drive stun’?
Drive stun can be split into two distinct applications: drive stun and angled drive stun.
1) Drive stun (cartridge off)
If an officer were to use a Taser without the cartridge in drive stun mode, the Taser will deliver an electrical current between the two contacts (electrodes) on the front of the device which are about one and a half inches apart.
If the Taser is used in this mode it will only deliver a shock to the intended subject which will cause them to recoil away in some discomfort. In this mode the Taser does not work in order to incapacitate an individual (unlike when the barbs are fired). It is probably the least effective, yet most complained about use of Taser across the world.
In ‘drive stun mode’ the arcing electricity at the front of the Taser is required to make contact with the subject’s body or clothing before a shock results. This requires the front of the Taser to be pressed against the person. Use of a Taser in this way can leave signature marks on a person’s skin that are temporary, these range from reddening to burns regardless of whether contact is made directly with the skin or whether the Taser is applied through clothing. To that end, the UK police do not teach cartridge off drive stun as a routine option during the training courses, but officers are shown how this could assist them in emergency situations. An example when it could be used would be the officer who has fired their Taser, both the barbs have missed and they discard the ineffective cartridge from the front bay in order to replace with the spare. However before the spare can be put in place, the intended subject closes the officer down to attack them leaving the officer with a Taser that is not ‘loaded’ with a new cartridge. The officer with the Taser knows that in this most desperate of situations, the application of the ‘cartridgeless’ Taser may be enough to give them time to reload, or to choose another option.
2) Angled drive stun (cartridge on)
Cartridge on angled drive stun is achieved when the Taser has been fired towards the intended subject and one probe has missed, or the Taser has been deployed towards the subject and the probes are too close together to incapacitate the subject causing only localised pain, or possibly no reaction at all. In these circumstances if an officer then places the end of the taser in a part of the body awayfrom the probe(s) then it is possible that incapacitation can be achieved.. (NB There is a third possible way a Taser can be deployed in a ‘drive stun’ mode and that is when the cartridge is fired, both probes miss and the officer places the end of the cartridge onto the intended subject which is attached to the Taser. This is not a common use and would be similar effect to a cartridge off drive stun.)
16. Are complaints involving Taser taken seriously?
Yes. All complaints about police activity are taken seriously. In the case of Taser, any complaint that is made is recorded and investigated by the force concerned. All complaints that are made are referred to the IPCC. The police have a definition of a Taser complaint:
“Any complaint directly relating to the deployment or use of Taser where Taser has directly affected the outcome or persons involved, or where the complainant feels that Taser was an issue”
This is only guidance, and perceived involvement of Taser in a complaint will be recorded and investigated thoroughly.
17. How are officers selected to become Taser officers?
All officers involved in Taser training have to satisfy a minimum requirement. Some forces may introduce other requirements including raised fitness levels depending on the officers’ core role within that police service.
The Taser User is a constable (or equivalent agency rank or grade), trained in the use of Taser, not being a Special Constable (see ACPO Council minutes April 2012).
The Taser User, in line with national guidance and training:
- Should possess sound judgment, a knowledge and understanding of the National Decision Model (NDM) to resolve incidents involving conflict, have demonstrated maturity of action in the workplace, demonstrated an ability to use legitimate force in a proportionate manner and have an acceptable Professional Standards / Complaints and Misconduct record. (There is no requirement for psychological profiling to be used for selection.) This will be signed off by an officer of at least the rank of Superintendent.
- They will be expected to undergo a biennial eyesight test to the same level as authorised firearms officers.
- Will undergo an initial Taser User Course, of 18 hours minimum contact time, and be expected to be able to discharge a Taser accurately, pass the final examination at the end of the course, demonstrate competence at dealing with role-play scenarios in training and justify the use of force using the National Decision Model (NDM) and demonstrate understanding when dealing with vulnerable persons.
- They will be required to successfully complete annual refresher training, of 6 hours minimum contact time. If they are found not to be competent during re-training then re-accreditation must take place or they will leave this role.
- The officer must demonstrate safe systems of work for the loading, unloading and function checking of the Taser, report any faults or failures to Taser single point of contact or technician and will maintain competence to the national minimum standard in both first aid and officer safety training. This must include training on Acute Behavioural Disturbance (ABD).
18. How do forces monitor Taser use?
All forces record and monitor all Taser use.
Forces have been issued guidance in relation to monitoring Taser use. They are to have:
- A well identified and experienced single point of contact within force who can represent the force at National meetings.
- Credible well informed Taser lead – This person may be the force’s Chief Officer lead with responsibility for less lethal weapons.
- Knowledge of the force position relative to the National picture.
- Protocols to quality assure all Taser forms.
- Knowledge of statistics and identify action to probe anomalies.
- Responses to Freedom Of Information Act requests regarding Taser.
- Anticipation of media interest, having a prepared media strategy reflecting the National position.
- A comprehensive engagement programme, to inform communities – It is essential that communities are involved.
- Complaints recorded correctly – Using the definition, complaints should be recorded accordingly.
- Flow of information with the National Less Lethal Weapons Secretariat (LLWS) as a critical friend for support and guidance. – There are experts within the LLWS.
19. Why does Taser use vary greatly from force to force?
Forces deploy Taser in response to their threat and risk assessment. This can reflect local variations in the demographics of violent crime and violence towards officers.
Some forces will deploy Taser with units that are specifically set up to deal with confrontation. This will mean there is a greater likelihood the Taser will be used more frequently than other forces that deploy Taser with officers who perform a general duty. What is important is that each use must be justified within the law and supervised within the force itself. If this isn’t happening there are safeguards at a National level that allow this to be investigated further.
20. Taser has killed people. How can you say it is safe?
All use of force carries risk. Taser use is closely monitored. Its introduction into UK policing has followed a comprehensive review and study by an independent medical committee (SACMILL). To date there have been no deaths in the UK that have been directly attributed to the electrical effects of Taser on the body. There has been an instance where Taser use has resulted in death from a secondary effect of the discharge (ignition of flammable fuel). Deaths from head injury, as a result of discharge-induced falls has been documented in other countries. Risks are reduced as far as possible by robust training, governance, engaging with communities and learning lessons by monitoring and sharing.
21. How do officers make a decision to use Taser?
Officers use the National decision model when arriving at a decision to use force. The model is as follows:
22. What Is The National Decision Model for?
The National Decision Model is a police framework that officers are taught to enable them to make considered and consistent decisions. It is to be used by all officers, decision makers, and assessors that are involved in the whole decision process. It is not only used for making the decisions but for assessing and judging them. It can also be used to improve future decisions and to help create techniques and methods for many situations.
Officers will look at each individual case and decide on the most appropriate tactical option that is in line with the law, is proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.
23. Tasers have been called ‘50,000 volt stun guns’. Are people shocked with 50,000 volts?
It is true that Tasers generate 50,000 volts to produce the spark discharge (known as ‘arcing’) across the electrodes at the front of the device. This high voltage is also required for the passage of electricity across the air gap between the Taser probes (embedded in clothing) and the skin. However, once the electricity contacts the body, the voltage drops to about 1,500 volts.
24. 1,500 volts is still a high voltage. Why doesn’t this harm people?
The reason 1,500 volts does not injure people is because it is delivered in extremely short pulses, with each pulse lasting less than 1/10,000th of a second. This is similar to the static shock you might experience touching a metal tap on a dry day after walking across a carpet; even though the voltages involved can be as high as 20,000 volts, the static shock does not injure because of its extremely brief duration, even less than that of the Taser pulse. The extremely short 1,500 volt Taser pulses are not to be confused with the continuous 240 volt mains electricity voltage, which may be fatal.
25. How do Tasers work?
When the Taser pulse is applied to body, either through clothing or directly on the skin, electrical current flows. This current activates nerves under the skin which then cause muscles to contract. When this happens, the contractions produced by the Taser override a person’s ability to make voluntary movements – the person will not be able to run away or physically attack someone. This muscular incapacitation only continues for as long as the Taser discharge is applied.
26. Is it true that police plan to introduce new types of CED?
Less lethal weapons or in this case Conductive Energy Device are currently undergoing scientific assessment and the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology is undertaking trials to determine if these new devices would be suitable for operational use in the UK. There are a number of devices that will be looked at as part of any replacement programme
All of these devices would be subject to a raft of in-depth and lengthy scientific and medical assessments in the UK prior to deciding whether any are viable for use in policing here. The implementation of any new device would need the approval of the Home Secretary.
27. How can police be confident the right amount of current comes out of a Taser?
The manufacturer carries out thorough tests on all of its Tasers, which are guaranteed by an internationally recognised quality assurance body to ensure they meet operational specifications before they are supplied.
Tasers are also regularly checked to ensure they are functioning correctly.
28. If the current Taser works, why do we need new ones?
The police service is legally bound to explore alternatives to lethal force and continuously reviews new technology to see whether there are any developments which could be applied in UK policing.
The Taser X26 has been commercially available since 2003. As with all electronic devices, technology moves on and new models may offer significant advances in safety, use and accountability. All equipment has a finite life expectancy and will require eventual replacement.
29. There has been some concern about Taser being used on the chest. Why do police aim there?
Taser does not work by electrocuting people, rather they cause incapacitation by stimulating nerves which, in turn, make muscles contract. Due to this, Taser is most effective when it is targeted at large muscle groups, such as the back, thighs, abdomen and buttocks. These muscles are also largely responsible for posture so can be more effective at stopping a subject posing a threat to the public or police.
As is often the case with frontline policing, an individual posing a threat is unlikely to stand still and allow a police officer the choice over where the Taser is aimed. Things can change rapidly in dynamic events such as these. The situation is further complicated by the need to avoid sensitive areas of the body, such as the eyes, face, neck and groin. If a combative individual attacks an officer face-on, then the reality is that the only area that the officer may be able to hit with the Taser probes, while at the same time avoiding sensitive areas, is the chest.
Training does not recommend the chest as a preferred area for probe placement as it is often less effective than other areas of the body due to the smaller muscles that are not involved in regulating posture. However, the operational reality is that, where a subject is rapidly closing an officer down and posing a threat to the officer or the public, the narrow window of opportunity may mean that the chest area is all they can see and therefore aim at.
No use of force is risk free but the alternatives to Taser, when an individual poses a serious threat, include physical restraint, batons, police dog and, in some rare situations, a firearm. These alternatives can have a much more long-term impact on someone compared with a Taser, the effects of which last only for the duration of the discharge.
But Taser International, the company who makes the devices, said police should avoid chest shots.
In September 2009, Taser International announced a change to the recommended point of aim for Taser shots to the front of the body. This change involved avoidance of shots to the chest. The company went out of their way to say this change was not because they had new evidence that such shots to the chest affected the heart. Rather, they said that it avoids the controversy about whether or not discharge from the device does actually affect the heart.
In the UK, as a result of the announced change, the Government’s independent committee advising on the medical implications of less-lethal options was consulted. The committee concluded that, at the time, there was no new evidence to indicate a direct effect of Taser discharge on the heart and that the risks of using the device remained low, a position supported by operational experience of use of the Taser in the UK.
Subsequently, some new evidence did emerge in a human study that was published in a medical journal in 2010. In this study a single subject experienced a fast heart beat when the Taser discharge was applied to the front of the man’s chest and returned to normal when the device was switched off. The probe had penetrated the skin and underlying tissue and was closer than usual to the heart. Although the device that caused this was not a commercial product (it was prototype of a new design), the independent medical committee took the view that it would be prudent to assume that the in-service Taser X26 might conceivably carry a similar risk. The committee further advised that if it turned out that this risk was real, then it could be averted by avoiding shots to the chest area over the heart. However, it noted that the overall risk of using Taser remained low.
Officers are currently trained to aim the Taser probes so as to “split the beltline”. In practice, for frontal shots this means trying to place one probe in the upper abdomen and one probe in the upper thigh. However, for the reasons given in the previous section, this is not always possible in a rapidly changing situation and upper frontal chest probe placements will inevitably occur.
After every use of Taser, an officer must record where on the body it was used.
The location of the probes on the body is one part of the information collected in the Taser Deployment Form every time a police officer in the UK uses a Taser. The most recent version of the form allows the officer to record, on a human-shaped figure, frontal shots impacting on the chest area over the heart. This form, which was introduced in 2012, replaced previous versions which considered the frontal chest and abdomen as a single entity – there was no option torecord probe placements over the heart.
In the event of any unexpected event occurring during use of the Taser, the current form allows the police and others, such as the independent medical committee, to begin to explore whether there may be a link between probe position and the event.
For more than ten years, Taser has been successfully and safely used thousands of times in the UK to protect the public and officers. Whilst there have been several deaths following Taser use, of those enquiries that have reached a conclusion to date, the Taser has not been held directly responsible and other causes of death have been identified.
30. It has been said that officers using Taser receive training for only three days. Is that enough?
The Taser training package in the UK is one of longest and most comprehensive in the world.
The training has been developed by an experienced group of Taser instructors and practitioners and is subject to regular update and review.
It is among the best training in the world and is robustly scrutinised by the National Less-Lethal Weapons Working Group, the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) and the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons (SACMILL).
As well as reviewing the training, any police officer who applies to become Taser trained must undergo a thorough selection process and not every officer who applies will be successful.
In order to pass the training, officers must have an established history and training in the use of force, decision making, officer safety training and first aid. Taser training then builds on this existing training and experience.
The initial training module is 18 hours, spread across three days. However, the total training an officer receives to become a competent Taser user is significantly more when all of the prior training they have received is taken into account.
Typically, in other countries it is achieved in one day, whereas the UK’s package is three times longer and demands that officers already have the skills mentioned above before they are allowed to undertake Taser training.
31. But why don’t Taser officers get the same amount of training as firearms officers?
A comparison between Taser training and firearms training fails to account for the significant difference between the two roles. The standards within Taser training are as thorough and robust as firearms training, but the length of the course for firearms is naturally longer because of the complexities and varying tactics used.
Taser is laser sighted and simple to load and reload. It is also used at limited close ranges. This compares with a handgun which uses a conventional sighting system and is used over a greater variety of ranges and positions and has to integrate with a far more complex variety of tactical options. As a result of these differences it takes more time to train and assess an officer’s ability with a handgun.
As the skills required to use a Taser are far simpler by comparison with a handgun, the re-examination and training of officers is naturally different. Taser training concludes with a robust assessment process that will eliminate officers who do not meet the required standard. Once officers pass this training, they are then assessed every year and, if they do not meet the requirements, they will no longer be allowed to continue to deploy with Taser. It must also be remembered that length of training is not the best way to judge someone’s ability. Ultimately it is not about how much training an officer has received, rather it is the standard they must achieve and maintain.
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Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author(s).
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External link: ACPO Questions and Answers on Taser
Published: January 2015
Author: National Police Chiefs’ Council