Police chiefs criticise £10m Taser rollout

Government to announce ringfenced funding despite concerns over stun gun use

The government is to spend £10m on arming more officers with electric stun guns, despite police chiefs and human rights groups voicing strong concerns about the impact the weapons have on trust in the police.

The announcement was due to be made at the Conservative party conference but after the Guardian approached the Home Office, the department rushed out a statement on its website.

The announcement was welcomed by the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers. It said additional funding could put stun guns into the hands of 10,000 police officers, roughly 10% of the total employed in England and Wales.

The move has been criticised by police chiefs, the Guardian understands, and is likely to expose a rift between rank-and-file officers and their superiors, with the former calling for a rollout for years and the latter understood to oppose it. The National Police Chiefs’ Council disputed the figure of 10,000 officers with stun guns, which was also cited by the Home Office. The NPCC said the £10m would also be needed to pay for training, certification and maintenance as well as the weapons themselves.

One source with knowledge of discussions said there was a “flurry of activity” last week within the government on stun guns. The source said ministers were “obviously fleshing it out so they can make an announcement at conference”.

Another senior police officer said: “We are happy with the figure and the amount of money that is coming.”

The plans led to disagreement in private between the government and police chiefs, with the latter sceptical about the proposals. One senior source said the majority were opposed and had tried to talk Boris Johnson’s government out of it when it was raised last week.

A source said: “It damages policing by consent. It’s not a safe option, it is a less lethal weapon and is still classed as a firearm. Most chiefs don’t want every officer to have one. It should be done after an assessment of risk. We can think of better things to spend £10m on. We don’t welcome it.”

The human rights group Liberty described the plans as a ”knee-jerk” reaction, reflecting “a wilful disregard of the well-documented dangers Tasers”.

Before the intense activity from the prime minister’s office and Home Office, each of the 43 forces that are operationally independent of politicians made their own decision about stun guns. The Northamptonshire and Durham forces have decided any frontline response officer who wants one will get one.

In Kent, the force is quadrupling the number of officers carrying Tasers. Any frontline officer will be able to choose to have Taser training and up to 1,500 officers are expected to opt in. It said it made the decision because of a large rise in incidences of knife crime.

But other police chiefs believe such a policy carries dangers. Chief constables are divided on the issue, with some strongly opposed to a policy of every officer who chooses having a Taser.

One told the Guardian: “It changes the face of policing,” which in Britain is mainly unarmed and done by the consent of the public. The senior source said some officers were drawing their Tasers immediately when dealing with situations when they were not required. They feared it would escalate situations, rather than calming them down.

The NPCC, which represents police chiefs, has begun a review of the issue and how extensive arming with a Taser should be.

Since becoming prime minister, Johnson and his government have attempted to make a hardline approach to criminal justice a central plank of their domestic agenda – a move denounced as populist by critics.

Johnson and his cabinet have made a wave of a justice-focused announcements, including on new prison places, tougher sentencing, increased use of stop and search and more police officers on the streets.

The move comes after a rising number of assaults against police officers and high-profile serious attacks.

Martin Buhagiar, the deputy head of communications for the Police Federation, said: “As part of our campaign to see more officers carrying Taser we would welcome additional funding from the Home Office towards this.”

Rosalind Comyn, the policy and campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “These plans are not just knee-jerk, they reflect a wilful disregard of the well-documented dangers Tasers pose. Tasers can and do kill. They are deployed disproportionately against people of colour and people experiencing mental health issues, and have alarmingly been used against children under 11.

“Arming every officer will normalise the use of Taser in routine police encounters, which risks escalating, rather than reducing, violence on our streets and will further corrode the fractured relationship between police and the communities they serve.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “I’ve been completely appalled by the recent spate of serious assaults on police officers, which is why I’m giving chief constables the resources to dramatically increase the number of their officers who carry tasers.”


Sarah Marsh,Vikram Dodd and Jamie Grierson

The GuardianTramp

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