The police use of Taser is often in the media and unfortunately some of the reporting and commentary is inaccurate and misleads the public.
Reports of this nature are damaging because they needlessly undermine confidence in police and do not acknowledge or understand the reason for Taser use.
The aim of Taser is to offer police a less lethal option to resolve situations, which include threats of violence from an individual towards the public, or themselves and the police.
Taser is more appropriate and less injurious to use when resolving certain situations, and without it, the other options open to officers include the use of a firearm, a baton or police dog.
In the majority of cases involving Taser, the mere threat of its use has been enough to deter assailants and ensure a peaceful resolution of the incident.
When Taser, or any other force is used on an individual, a police officer will always have to justify their actions as being necessary and proportionate under the Law.
All use of Taser is reported to the Home Office in great detail, including those where young people are involved.
Some commentators have also suggested a lack of investigation into complaints about Taser could be a breach of human rights legislation. This claim is a fundamental misunderstanding of the process.
Every complaint received by police in relation to their use of Taser is automatically referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation.
One issue that has come under scrutiny has been the training given to officers who use Taser.
The training has been developed by an experienced group of Taser instructors and practitioners and is subject to regular updates and review.
It is among the best training in the world and is robustly scrutinised by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Less Lethal Weapons Working Group, the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) and the Science Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Options (SACMILL).
As well as reviewing the training, any police officer who applies to become Taser trained must undergo a thorough selection process and not every officer who applies will be successful.
In order to pass the training, officers must have an established history and training in the use of force, decision making, officer safety training and first aid.
Taser training then builds on this existing training and experience.
Taser training in the UK continues to be reviewed and updated. It is one of longest and most comprehensive Taser training packages in the world.
Typically in other countries it is achieved in one day, whereas the UK’s package is three times longer and demands officers already have the skills I mentioned above.
The initial training module is 18 hours, spread across three days, however the total training an officer would receive to become a competent Taser user would be significantly more when you consider all of the prior training they receive.
Some simplistic comparisons have also been made between Taser training and firearms training. These comparisons fail to account for the significant difference between the two.
The standards within Taser training are as thorough and robust as firearms training, but the length of the course for firearms is naturally longer because of the complexities and varying tactics used.
However, a proportionally similar amount of time is spent on training in both disciplines when you take into account the differing nature of both disciplines.
Training is also not the best way to judge someone’s ability because ultimately it is not about how much training an officer has done, but rather the standard they must achieve and maintain. What is important is the assessment and standards which officers must meet before being given a Taser or firearm, and they are set at a very high level.
The comparison between Taser training and handgun training also must recognise the significant differences between the two.
Taser is laser sighted and simple to load and reload. It is also used at limited, close ranges.
This compares with a handgun which uses a conventional sighting system and is used over a greater variety of ranges, positions and integrates with a far more complex variety of tactical options.
As a result of these differences it takes more time to train and assess an officer’s ability with a handgun.
Due to the more complex nature of handgun training, these skills require regular practice and assessment in order for officers to retain a high level of competence.
As the skills required to use a Taser are far simpler by comparison with a handgun, the re-examination and training of officers is naturally different.
The training concludes with a robust assessment process that will eliminate officers who do not meet the required standard.
Once officers pass this training, they are then assessed every year and if they do not meet the requirements they will no longer be allowed to use it.
In addition, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the College of Policing will continue to set high standards for Taser training and ensure its future use by officers continues to protect the public and be necessary and proportionate.
We believe it’s important for the public to have the facts around Taser to help with that discussion, which is why we have drawn up a list of the most frequently asked questions for the public and media to use.
Simon Chesterman is Deputy Chief Constable of West Mercia Police and the national policing lead for armed police.