On 25 August 2021, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) warned the use of Tasers by police risks losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the public if community concerns are not addressed through improvements to national guidance, training and scrutiny of Taser use.
The warning came as it published its review of 101 independent investigations carried out by the IOPC between 2015 and 2020 which involved a Taser being used. The review looked at existing data and research and considered the views of a range of community groups and other stakeholders.
Their investigation looked at 101 independent investigations, which involved:
- 108 people subjected to Taser use; 94 of them had a Taser discharged against them.
- Of those people, 71% were White, 22% were Black, less than 4% were Asian and less than 2% were of mixed ethnicity.
- The average age was 35 years old. Six people were aged under 18.
- 26 investigations led to a finding that an officer may have behaved in a manner that would justify bringing disciplinary proceedings or a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service.
- Four inquests found the use of Taser in combination with other factors contributed to or were relevant in a person’s death.
- One case resulted in a criminal trial where an officer was convicted of unlawful manslaughter.
The review highlighted concerns about the number of cases – almost a third – where the IOPC identified potential missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation. There were also concerns raised on prolonged and multiple Taser discharges from their review.
The IOPC’s report made 17 recommendations – to the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the Home Office – seeking improvements to national guidance and training; scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use; and data and research.
The IOPC’s review is an opportunity for police forces to learn from the most serious Taser incidents in recent years, including alarming cases where Taser has been used on children. It also clearly sets out the case for urgent action to address the increasing use of Taser on under-18s, the disproportionate use of Taser on Black and ethnic minority children, inadequate police training (including on effective communication skills and de-escalation techniques), and insufficient data collection to ensure robust scrutiny and accountability.
Although we would like to see the use of Taser on children eliminated, at the very least we expect the IOPC recommendations to be urgently implemented to ensure Tasers are only used when absolutely necessary.
We would like to see the use of Taser on children eliminated, but at the very least expect the IOPC recommendations to be urgently implemented in partnership with stakeholders, to ensure Tasers are only used when absolutely necessary.
Louise King, Director of the Children's Rights Alliance for England & Director of Policy and Campaigns at Just for Kids Law
We would urge practitioners dealing with cases involving the use of a taser to consider how reasonable and proportionate the actions of the discharging officer were and to refer their client to a lawyer specialising in actions against the police if they have any concerns.