First NI Taser use “justified and proportionate”

As the BBC reports, the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman has found that the first use of Tasers in NI was “justified and proportionate”. Policing Board member Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson believes the findings “to be flawed and the Ombudsman carried out a weak investigation.” Meanwhile, from UUP MLA Basil McCrea, “I told Sinn Fein at last month’s meeting of the Policing Board that they should not anticipate the decision of the Ombudsman.” From the Ombudsman’s statement.

The Police Ombudsman, Mr Al Hutchinson, praised an “effective and successful policing operation”, and said the use of the Taser had been the best means of resolving the situation. “The use of a Taser represented a less lethal option compared to the potential use of live fire or impact [baton] rounds at close range. Unlike handheld batons, it allowed officers to maintain a safe distance from a suspect they believed was armed with a knife,” he said. However Mr Hutchinson has also made a number of procedural recommendations to the PSNI , including that advice to medical professionals on the removal of the small barbs which are discharged by Tasers should be re-circulated.

The circumstances police found themselves in are worth noting. From the Ombudsman’s statement

Police were first called to the incident at about 3am. A woman in a distressed state said that her partner had locked himself in their home with their two children, aged four and five, and was threatening to kill the children and himself. She said her partner had been drinking and had a knife.

Repeated unsuccessful attempts were made by police to contact the man by mobile phone. However, shortly after 6.30am he went to the back door of the property. Officers stationed there instructed him to move into the back yard and clear of the house. The man took one step forward but didn’t move further. He was then struck by the Taser discharge and fell to the ground, suffering injuries to his head and elbow, before officers moved in to restrain and handcuff him.

The officer who discharged the Taser later told Police Ombudsman investigators that he believed the children would have been at risk if the man had re-entered the house. The officer said the man had been drinking, was in an emotional and agitated state, was believed to have a knife and had threatened harm to the children.

Charges against the man were later dropped when “the prosecution said the alleged injured party had made a statement of withdrawal.”

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  • Brit

    Can understand SF’s objections though. We know how strongly opposed IRA/Sinn Fein have always been to violent punishments.

  • alan

    bet the tasers were made in China… another example of NI focusing human as well financial capital in the wrong direction…

  • alan

    for those who want a bit of taser background information check out this website. Note the international conference on the 27th July, I wonder if anyone from here is going…?
    http://www.taser.com/company/Pages/default.aspx

    The law enforcement product range includes a shotgun…
    http://www.taser.com/products/law/Pages/TASERX12.aspx

  • alan

    more one link… the taser.com website has ‘actual use’ videos…
    http://www.taser.com/pages/videos.aspx?filter=ACTUAL TASER USE

    which are prefaced by
    ‘The purpose of these videos is to share real-life, potentially life-saving actions, and the dangers faced by law enforcement officers everyday.’ (I wonder what the usage levels are like in the US? Does Irish America know?)

    followed by
    ‘These videos are not an emdorsement of the specific tactics or policies depicted.’ (yeah right)

  • Dread Cthulhu

    alan: “‘The purpose of these videos is to share real-life, potentially life-saving actions, and the dangers faced by law enforcement officers everyday.’ (I wonder what the usage levels are like in the US? Does Irish America know?)”

    I doubt the levels are uniform — police are kitted out locally, so not all will have tasers, etc.

    Tasers are good theory, but so-so in practice… it theoretically gives the officer a non-lethal response, but we’re finding a number of crooks aren’t in the best of health as a consequence

  • Dec

    an effective and successful policing operation

    Or, innocent man is woken at 6.30am, goes to his kitchen to see laser sights combing his house, opens back door and is immediately tasered and dragged off to cells.

  • joeCanuck

    Sure, Dec. The police decided it was time for a bit of fun and picked someone semi-randomly to practice their taser tactics.

  • Dec

    This was Mr Smith’s version of events but I’m sure you know better Joe.

  • aquifer

    Drink taken, knife under pillow, children threatened.

    Call the civil rights lawyer hotline?

    SF’s rotten revolutionary politics at work again, but when does subversion begin to stink?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Dec: “Or, innocent man is woken at 6.30am, goes to his kitchen to see laser sights combing his house, opens back door and is immediately tasered and dragged off to cells.”

    Sure — because when there are laser sights coming my house, I always go outside, so as to make a wholly unobstructed target of myself — saves on damage to the windows.

    Dec: “This was Mr Smith’s version of events but I’m sure you know better Joe. ”

    Sure’n Mr. Smith would never embroider the truth to make his side of the case sound more reasonable, now would he…

  • joeCanuck

    Analogous to the excuse most commonly used by young people arrested during riots – “Honest your Honour, I was going to visit grandma and just happened to end up innocently in the middle of those rioters.”

  • NCM

    You guys are going to be in for some real fun. Here in the US the police Tase everyone, including old women, little kids, and college students who won’t stop talking. The thing is, I’m not actually joking.

    Tasers are particularly liable to rampant abuse because the manufacturer sells them to police as non-lethal and safe to be used at will. The hundreds of people who have been killed by Tasers might be some evidence they aren’t particularly non-lethal, but that’s just a detail, isn’t it?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    NCM: “You guys are going to be in for some real fun. Here in the US the police Tase everyone, including old women, little kids, and college students who won’t stop talking. The thing is, I’m not actually joking.”

    You are, as a minimum, indulging in hyperbole, NCM. The police, in fact, do not “Tase everyone.”

    NCM: “Tasers are particularly liable to rampant abuse because the manufacturer sells them to police as non-lethal and safe to be used at will. The hundreds of people who have been killed by Tasers might be some evidence they aren’t particularly non-lethal, but that’s just a detail, isn’t it?”

    Too bad you’re misrepresenting the facts.

    Firstly, you’re exaggerating the number of dead. In the period between June 2001 and March 2005, there were 103 Taser related deaths in Canada and the United States combined. So, were not talking “hundreds of deaths” as “the police tase everyone.” (Oh, and these are Amnesty Internationals number, not mine.)

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-04-01-taser-report_x.htm

    Secondly, what would you propose as an adequate replacement for the Taser in the policeman’s arsenal? Would you have them go back to the simple days when the choice was a pistol or a night-stick — both readily deadly in the hands of a competent fighter. Pepper or chemical sprays are readily deadly to those with allergies or breathing problems… rubber bullets can kill at close ranges, et al and ad nauseum. Maybe the cops oughta carry those two handed rattan truncheons Indian and Pakistani police carry.

    What would you replace the taser with as a less lethal alternative to discharging a sidearm in a threatening situation? And stick to reality, if you would.

  • dave smith

    Only the BBC in the citadel of victimhood – Derry – would run as the top line that a man who was tazered is angry that the police have been found to be correct to have tazered him. As for that whining lunatic Anderson…

  • Pure lurred hi

    Derry = Sue City. The city’s culture and mindset resonates somewhat with Liverpool.

  • NCM

    Dread Cthulhu, your position seems to be that the police don’t literally Tase EVERYONE, so therefore Tasers aren’t being abused and aren’t liable to be abused. Yes, of course the police don’t literally Tase everyone they come across. But they sure have Tased old women, little kids, and college kids who commit the sin of interrupting John Kerry during a speech at a university [the “don’t Tase me, bro” guy, remember?]. Ask whether the police would have been so quick to shoot these folks with a handgun [no, because in each case that would have been murder or manslaughter] or start hitting them with a nightstick [no, because it would be hard to explain using a billy club on a little kid or an old lady]. Tasers give the cops a new option of using potentially deadly force not as a substitute for other uses of deadly force but as a substitute for not using deadly force. And these things do kill. Whether the numbers are more than killed 100 in several years, or more, the fact is, getting Tased by police is potentially deadly, all the more so because the police will Tase you when they wouldn’t have shot you or hit you with a club.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    NCM: “your position seems to be that the police don’t literally Tase EVERYONE, so therefore Tasers aren’t being abused and aren’t liable to be abused. Yes, of course the police don’t literally Tase everyone they come across.”

    Then why such foolishness, NCM? You cheery pick a few anecdotes and attempt to present them as reality / normality, which is inherently deceitful.

    NCM: “Tasers give the cops a new option of using potentially deadly force not as a substitute for other uses of deadly force but as a substitute for not using deadly force. And these things do kill. ”

    **wrings hands**

    It provides the with a less lethal option, one that is far less likely to kill than a blow to the head or stranglehold.

    Yes, people die have died from being Tasered. People have also died from jogging (Jim Fixx), smoking (The fella from the Marlboro ads), and lord knows what else.

    Until and unless you have a better answer, NCM, all you’re going to pissing and moaning. The police need something strong than harsh language — and even that seems to too much for some delicate souls.

  • joeCanuck

    In the extremely unlikely event that the police have to offer me the alternatives of being shot with their 38 (or whatever) or being tasered, I will beg to be tasered.
    The problem with some police forces/services is that they don’t have strictly enforced rules of engagement for taser use. IMO, they should only be used if the only other alternative is the use of deadly force.

  • NCM

    Dread, sure, Tasers give police another less-lethal force option. But the problem is that they use Tasers not when lethal force would have otherwise been used but when less force than a Taser would have otherwise been used. Yes, I’m sure that most Tasings in the US involve unsavory characters doing something provocative against police, but the problem is that police now have another tool in their arsenal to deal with members of the public who do not fully comply with their commands — and it isn’t just hardened criminals who get Tased.

    In the six county of Ireland context, I can only imagine how this will play out… now the PSNI have, beside rubber bullets, additional options to subject the populace… and I can’t imagine this will be accepted with open-arms.

  • gimpy

    The point is that the taser is much more likely to be used when it’s unecessary because the policeman believes, wrongly, that it won’t do that much harm in a non-life/death situation i.e. where the use of a gun would be unecessary. Therefore, the PSNI’s use of the taser means that serious injuries are much more likely to result. If the b*stard really is that dangerous, shoot him and aim for the groin or leg. Don’t use a taser on every eejit.

  • joeCanuck

    aim for the groin or leg

    Too risky; if the other guy is armed he/she may be still able to kill/seriously injure you. Police are taught, rightly IMO, that if the situation requires you to shoot, you aim for the centre of mass; i.e. where the heart lies.

    Spooky; code word is “arms”

  • gimpy

    [i]if the other guy is armed he/she may be still able to kill/seriously injure you.[/i]

    If the other guy is armed, and presents a clear threat to another’s life, it’s simple: shoot him in the head.

  • joeCanuck

    No; the head is too small a target too. Centre of the chest is more likely to succeed.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    NCM: “Dread, sure, Tasers give police another less-lethal force option. But the problem is that they use Tasers not when lethal force would have otherwise been used but when less force than a Taser would have otherwise been used.”

    And I’ll ask you again, what do you propose, beyond harsh language and stern looks?

    The fact of the matter is that any system you deploy that is capable of incapacitating the target is going to have some risk — severe allergic or asthmatic reaction pepper-spray, for example.

    NCM: “Yes, I’m sure that most Tasings in the US involve unsavory characters doing something provocative against police, but the problem is that police now have another tool in their arsenal to deal with members of the public who do not fully comply with their commands—and it isn’t just hardened criminals who get Tased.”

    *shrug*

    And, depending on the facts and circumstances, that “not fully complying with the officers commands” legally constitutes “resisting arrest” and / or assault of a police officer.

    The fact of the matter is is that the overwhelming number of taser deployments are legally justifiable and you’re making mountains out of some mole-hills. This isn’t to say that the mole-hills don’t need to be addressed, but your sense of proportion / seemingly deliberate exaggeration of the problem doesn’t lend itself to taking your side of the argument too seriously.

    gimpy: “The point is that the taser is much more likely to be used when it’s unecessary because the policeman believes, wrongly, that it won’t do that much harm in a non-life/death situation i.e. where the use of a gun would be unecessary. Therefore, the PSNI’s use of the taser means that serious injuries are much more likely to result. If the b*stard really is that dangerous, shoot him and aim for the groin or leg.”

    You obviously don’t know how to shoot a hand-gun and/or have watched too many movies.

    You’re trained to aim at the biggest target, i.e. the torso / center of mass. Leave this “aim for this or that body-part” foolishness to bad television.

    Secondly, a wound to the leg or groin is readily fatal — too many major blood vessels in that region of the body.

  • NCM

    When deadly force is needed, a Taser is insufficient. If there were an intruder in my house and I had a Taser and a 12-gauge shotgun, there’s not really any question about which one I’d pick. Likewise, a cop against an armed suspect isn’t going to screw around with Tasing him, not if he wants to go home in one piece.

    At least with the nightstick, cops are going to be deterred against using it as a matter of convenience. They’ll still misuse them, but I suspect the rate of misuse would tend to be lower for the club than for the Taser, which is wrongly touted as “safe” or “non-lethal.”

  • Dread Cthulhu

    NCM: “At least with the nightstick, cops are going to be deterred against using it as a matter of convenience. They’ll still misuse them, but I suspect the rate of misuse would tend to be lower for the club than for the Taser, which is wrongly touted as “safe” or “non-lethal.” ”

    Stuff and nonsense.

    I would suspect that, if stripped of the less lethal option of the Taser, the number of debilitating injuries — broken bones and the like, along with fatalities — will go up, not down.

    Firstly, the Taser permits the officer the luxury of range, meaning that the officer does not have to get into 1:1 range with the perpetrator.

    Secondly, it also permits a certain level of dispassion — firing a Taser into a suspect isn’t going to engender the same fight or flight response that getting into close combat will.

    Thirdly, the electrical shock to the system, while dangerous, is incapable of crushing the thin bones of the temple, crush the hard cartilage of the throat, splinter a rib or snap off the zyphoid process in the chest cavity. Yes, there is a risk of heart attack, but, frankly, criminal activity does tend to be something of a contact sport, so a certain assumption of risk goes into resisting arrest and the like.