Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, is to arm police with 10,000 Taser stun guns in an escalation of the government’s fight against violent crime.
Smith will unveil plans tomorrow that will enable all 30,000 front-line response officers to be trained in firing the electric guns at knife-wielding thugs and other violent suspects.
Smith said yesterday that £8m will be made available to all 43 police forces in England and Wales to buy the new 50,000-volt weapons.
She said their use will be extended from small units of dedicated firearms officers to up to 30,000 police response officers across the country.
Officials say the gun could be be used against anyone who put the lives or safety of officers and the public at risk. That includes aggressive drunken yobs, knife-wielding criminals and those who go “berserk” in public. A Taser was successfully used against a fugitive suicide bomber who was captured in Birmingham after the failed July 2005 suicide attacks.
The move to widen the use of Tasers will be criticised by human rights groups and medical experts concerned about the dangers of the powerful guns. Amnesty International says the guns should be restricted to just a “small number” of highly trained officers. It points to cases of fatalities such as that of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, who died after being Tasered when he began throwing things after waiting for 10 hours at Vancouver airport last year. Smith, however, is a keen Taser fan. She believes they are essential to protect the safety of frontline officers and will reduce deaths caused by police shooting suspects with real guns.
“I am proud that we have one of the few police services around the world that do not regularly carry firearms and I want to keep it that way,” Smith said yesterday.
“But everyday the police put themselves in danger to protect us, the public. They deserve our support, so I want to give the police the tools they tell me they need to confront dangerous people.” “That is why I am giving the police 10,000 Tasers to ensure that officers across the country benefit from this form of defence.”
The move is backed by the 140,000 rank and file police officers and chief constables. Derek Talbot, of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said trials showed that in 80 per cent of incidents where Tasers were used, the situation as resolved without police needing to use a weapon.
“This reinforces the value of Taser as a useful tool to make the public and officers safer and to resolve potentially violent situations effectively and rapidly.
“The conclusions of this trial provide further evidence that Taser is a proportionate, low risk means of resolving incidents where the public or officers face severe violence or the threat of such violence which cannot safely be dealt with by other means,” he said.
The Taser fires two copper bharbs that send out an electrical shock. It is designed to incapacitate temporarily rather than injure.
The latest version is the X26 which can be effective from 26 feet. It fires a pair of barbs on copper wires that embed themselves in the suspect’s clothing and send out an electrical current of 50,00 volts.
The shock can cause temporary loss of muscle control, making the target fall to the ground or freeze on the spot.
Over a recent trial period in ten force areas Tasers were used 661 times. In over 75 per cent of cases an officer simply drew the weapons or pointed the gun’s red-dot at the target. Officials say the guns have a “significant deterrent value and on many occasion just producing it has stopped people behaving violently.
“Where they have been fired the potential for serious and lasting injury to the subject can be less than if a gun or [plastic bullet] is used,” the Home Office said.