“Major concerns” remain over police using Tasers at point-blank range in what is “purely a means of pain compliance”, a watchdog has said.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that the highly controversial practice is still being used, despite the tactic being largely removed from officer training.
In 2013 Tasers were used 287 times in so-called “drive-stun” mode, when the weapon without a cartridge is held directly against the body, out of a total of 1,733 occasions where the weapons were fired.
IPCC Commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone said: “The IPCC has major concerns about the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode, where the Taser is applied directly to the body without a cartridge rather than fired from a distance.
“When used in this way it is purely a means of pain compliance. Yet in several of the cases we reviewed, where it was used for the purpose of gaining compliance, it had the opposite effect, stimulating further resistance.”
A total of 15 complaints were made about the drive-stun cases last year.
The IPCC report said: “Consideration should be given to the fact that although cartridge-off drive-stun is no longer included in training, it is still being used. It is important to ensure that it is not used solely as a pain compliance tool.
“There is a risk, given the increase in Taser use, that police officers could become increasingly reliant on using force to gain compliance. This is particularly apparent in drive-stun mode which generates a considerable number of complaints.”
The number of uses of Taser have risen steadily in recent years, from 3,128 in 2009 up to 10,380 in 2013.
Figures released by the IPCC showed stark differences in the number of times the weapons were used, relative to the size of the force.
In Staffordshire they were used 33 times per 100 officers in 2013, in Humberside 25 and in Lincolnshire 23.
At the other end of the scale, they were only used twice per 100 officers in Dyfed Powys and City of London – although the capital’s main force the Met only racked up seven, despite being the biggest in the country.
In its review of Taser use since 2004 published today, the IPCC also raised concerns about the weapons being used on suspects who were already in custody, and young people and those with mental health problems.
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IPCC Commissioner Cindy Butts said: “The IPCC has always accepted that there are legitimate reasons for using Taser in policing and that it can be a valuable tool in assisting police officers to manage difficult and challenging situations.
“However, in light of the significant increase in Taser use, it is important to ensure that the device is being used appropriately and not as a default choice where other tactical options, including communication, could be effective. For that reason, it is very important that each individual use can be justified and that forces closely analyse the extent and type of use.”
There have been a number of controversial cases involving use of the stun guns – including blind pensioner Colin Farmer who was hit with the weapon in Chorley, Lancashire, when an officer mistook his white stick for a Samurai sword.
In April last year Andrew Pimlott died after being burned when he doused himself in flammable liquid and was then hit by a Taser outside his Plymouth home.
The previous year James McCarthy suffered a heart attack after he was hit twice with a Taser at a hotel in Liverpool and is now suing Merseyside Police.
And in December a teenage boy with complex learning difficulties was Tasered in the grounds of a special school owned by the exclusive Priory Group – Chelfham Senior School near Plymouth.
Since 2004 there have been two cases where epileptics have been Tasered – one of whom was already having a seizure, and one of whom began having one after they had been struck.
Three complaints to the IPCC were cases where the wrong person was hit – two where they were incorrectly identified as a suspect, and one where a quick-thinking criminal dragged someone else in front of them as a human shield.
Solicitor-advocate Sophie Khan, who represents Mr McCarthy, said: “No lessons have been learnt by the police to ensure that the use of drive-stun was monitored. This is of concern as the Taser should not be used as pain compliance tool.
“Police forces must implement training that prohibits drive-stun mode as it is a cruel and inhuman use of force which does not have the consent of the public.”
National policing lead for Taser, Commander Neil Basu said every use of the stun guns has to be justified.
He said: “The use of Taser is an emotive subject. The UK police have introduced its use into mainstream operational policing with great care, listening to and understanding the concerns people have raised and responding accordingly.
“Forces vary in size, demographics, and the number of officers they deploy with Tasers. Each force carries out a strategic threat and risk assessment to determine how many Tasers should be deployed in an area. Every use of Taser must be justified by the officer.
“The IPCC rightly identify that police do not teach the use of drive stun with the cartridge off. However, it cannot be completely removed from training as there may be emergency circumstances where it is needed. It is also acknowledged that angled drive stun, which is a viable tactic, is sometimes confused by officers and other people as a drive stun.
“This can lead to reports being made under the title of drive stun when they should be angled drive stun. We anticipate that instances of drive stun will reduce significantly over the coming months and years.”