Powerful Taser stun-guns will be available to specially trained
armed response officers for the first time in Scotland from late next
month, The Scotsman has learned.
The weapons, which fire electric wires from compressed nitrogen
cartridges and deliver 50,000-volt shocks to their targets, could be
used in the event of serious disorder during the conference at
Gleneagles Hotel or if street protests in the likes of Edinburgh turn
violent, as they have at past G8 events.
But while Taser training programmes continue in police forces
throughout Scotland, some US states are reviewing their use after a
series of deaths during the pursuit of suspects.
of the Police Federation of England and Wales this week joined forces
with their colleagues north of the Border by giving unanimous backing
to calls for Tasers to be supplied to all officers, not only armed
response units, called on to deal with serious incidents. An
overwhelming 95 per cent of delegates at their annual conference
approved the motion.
Yesterday, the Association of Chief Police Officers
said it had put the Home Office "on notice" that it wants more officers
to be trained to use the weapon. Mike Tonge, the chief constable of
Gwent, said: "We want to make it more available and possibly extend it
to more officers, beyond firearms officers."
Last week, a survey revealed that eight out of ten officers in
Scotland were in favour of frontline police carrying the stun-guns. The
Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) said every
Scots force now had, or was in the process of procuring, Tasers for
armed response units, and firearms police officers were being trained
to use them.
A spokeswoman said: "Scotland's major constabularies are all in the
process of procuring the weapons after both ACPOS and the former home
secretary, David Blunkett, gave their full backing to the introduction
of the weapons last year.
"Tasers can effectively be used in Scotland from next month, and
officers will have the option to use them at the G8 summit, or in
response to any major incidents they are called out to deal with."
For Tayside Police, the clock is ticking towards early July, when
Tony Blair, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, along with the leaders of
Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan, and their respective
entourages, will gather at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire for the G8
Police sources, anticipating the worst, have warned that major
unrest could take place around the hotel and in Edinburgh, where a
number of high-profile anti-globalisation protests are planned. If
there is trouble, the new weapons could be used, although officers will
not be issued with them as a matter of routine.
The move comes despite a report by Amnesty International published last month, there have been 104 Taser-related deaths in the US and Canada since June 2001.
Amnesty has documented cases of Tasers, made by the US weapons manufacturer Taser International,
being used against unruly schoolchildren, pregnant women (one of whom
subsequently lost her baby), a 71-year old partially-sighted woman and
a girl of nine who was already handcuffed.
More than 5,000 US law enforcement agencies are currently deploying
the hand-held electronic stun-guns that fire two barbed darts, which
remain attached to the gun by wires, up to a distance of 21ft. The
fish-hook-like darts are designed to penetrate up to two inches of the
target's clothing or skin and deliver a high-voltage, low amperage,
electric shock along insulated copper wires.
However, Steve Ballinger, of Amnesty International, said: "Tasers
are potentially lethal and inherently open to abuse because they leave
no visible marks. There should be an open and independent inquiry into
their safety and effects, and tight controls on their use - not a move
towards wider deployment.
"The use of stun technology in law enforcement raises a number of
concerns for the protection of human rights. Although US law
enforcement agencies stress that training and in-built product
safeguards minimise the potential for abuse, Amnesty International
believes these safeguards do not go far enough.
"There is also evidence to suggest that, far from being used to
avoid lethal force, many US police agencies are deploying Tasers as a
routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals
who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. They have
even been used against unruly schoolchildren, unarmed, mentally
disturbed or intoxicated individuals, suspects fleeing minor crime
scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately
with a command."
The decision to approve the use of Tasers in Scotland was revealed in The Scotsman last year after the officer in charge of firearms policy successfully pressed for their introduction.
Ian Gordon, the deputy chief constable of Tayside, said then: "The
evidence available so far is that Tasers are highly effective, the
Taser is suited to incidents where an individual is violent and is
difficult to approach and restrain. It may provide a good alternative
to baton guns and incapacitant sprays in confined areas of action where
they may be a risk of collateral injury."
DEATHS PROMPT SOME AMERICAN STATES TO STOP USING STUN-GUN
POLICE forces in the United States hailed the Taser as a lifesaver
when it was introduced in 2000. Officers could stop violent suspects by
paralysing them temporarily with a 50,000-volt shock, instead of having
to resort to the deadly force of a firearm.
But as its popularity has grown, so has concern over its safety.
Authorities in several states, including Ohio, Arizona, Illinois and
New Mexico, have taken Tasers out of service or launched inquiries into
the risks after cases such as these:
Cindi Grippi had broken no law and
was not involved in any kind of disruptive behaviour when police
delivered the 50,000-volt Taser shock that her lawyer insists killed
her unborn baby.
Ms Grippi, a six-months pregnant Californian housewife, was involved
in a domestic dispute with her husband and ignored an officer's request
not to try to return to her house.
She was shot in the back and, her muscles paralysed, fell
stomach-first on to a concrete driveway. She was discharged from
hospital after a check-up that night, but delivered a stillborn baby 12
days after the incident in 2001.
A prenatal expert consulted by Ms Grippi's lawyer said that the
electric shock was the most likely cause. She later won damages of
$675,000 from the city of Chula Vista.
Taser International does not recommend the use of Tasers on pregnant
women because of the risk of injury or miscarriage in a fall, though it
says there is no medical evidence to suggest the unborn baby would be
harmed by the electric shock.
To friends and family, John Cox, 39,
was a kind-hearted man who ran errands for neighbours in Bellport, New
York state. But to police who were called to a disturbance at his
girlfriend's house last month, he was a violent maniac who injured nine
officers before being subdued with five Taser jolts. Mr Cox's death,
the most recent Taser-related fatality in the US, has reopened the
debate about the effect of stun weapons on those under the influence of
drink or drugs.
Mr Cox took prescription drugs for schizophrenia and a bipolar
disorder, and a post-mortem revealed cocaine and alcohol in his
bloodstream. A police report claims the first few shocks had no effect.
19, was killed last December after he was hit twice with a Taser and
doused with a substance similar to pepper spray as he fought police
during a robbery at a store in Naples, Florida. He was the third
suspect to die in Florida in the same month.
In the wake of his death, investigators struggled to determine if
the Taser was to blame, or if it was his suspected use of cocaine.
Alfred Diaz, 29, was killed in
April last year after officers in Orange County, Florida, were called
to a disturbance at his home. He died after being subdued with at least
two jolts from Taser guns. Police claimed they had to restrain him
because of his erratic behaviour. The exact cause of death was unknown,
but a post-mortem examination suggested cardiac arrest. Mr Diaz had no
history of drugs.