Tasers are in the news

Tasers cause a lot of complaints. Obviously, nobody likes being tasered, but are the complaints fair? A recent report shows that many of them are. People rightly point out that the report looks only at cases where there were complaints. How typical are they? However, this may be the tip of an iceberg and we may need a wider-ranging study.

Don’t the Police need tasers?

Yes! They are sometimes better than firearms or manual conflict and may prevent death or injury to suspects, police officers and innocent bystanders. The threat of their use can be as effective as their use. Their use is the right option when someone is threatening violence to others or to the police, especially if the person is armed. They may help prevent serious self-harm. I would therefore oppose banning them.

When should the police not use tasers?

They should use them for only a few seconds. That is usually enough to subdue anybody. After that they may cause lasting injury or death, especially if the victim has a weak heart or one of certain other conditions. However, there are at least some proven cases of excessively long use. Where the police know of a medical condition they should use a taser only as a last resort. The physical situation is also relevant.  It is obviously dangerous to taser someone who is in danger of falling from a height or onto/into a hazard.

 What are the complaints about tasers?

The report found that the police have used them inappropriately, in circumstances other than those I mentioned above. Sometimes someone was tasered because he was slow to obey an instruction or showed aggression to the police, without having become violent. Another allegation is that the police use these weapons against black people and other minorities disproportionately. Is this because of poor communications and the misreading of signals by both parties or is it institutional racism?

  What is the deeper fault of which tasers are a symptom?

It is often easier to resort to a weapon (in the USA it is a gun) than to resolve a situation by words or even limited physical intervention. Of course, those two options require skill, which comes with experience and training. Police officers also need the right attitude, but attitudes develop in environments which nurture them. Easy options and wrong attitudes may affect other aspects of policing. Why follow up other lines of enquiry when you have your suspect?

Do tasers appear in any of my novels?

Not yet! So far, the police in my novels have sometimes been inept, but more often simply wrong, as in New Money. thus giving my amateur detective something to do. Although racism played a part in DOWN. I have written on this blog about corruption in the police and about institutional racism, past and present. I may need to bring some of these failings into my novels in future to ensure they reflect the real world.

The cover of DOWN. There were no tasers in 1978/9

There were no tasers in 1978/9

The cover of New Money. There were no tasers in this story.

There were no tasers in this story either.

Am I trying to taser the police with words?

Yes and no! I want to point out things that are wrong in the hope someone will put them right. I want to support the many officers who would love better training and more time to investigate things properly. Many officers? There should be more officers, not only on the beat, but in all the roles they have to fulfil. They also need the budgets for scientific forensic work to enable them to act on better evidence. Perhaps I will cover some of these things in my novels too.