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UK: G8 Protesters Face Tasers

by Dan McDougallThe Scotsman
May 20th, 2005

Police dealing with civil unrest during the G8 summit in Scotland will have in their armoury controversial weapons that have been blamed for the deaths of 104 civilians in the United States and Canada.

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.

Members 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 summit.

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
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.

JOHN COX
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.

CHRISTOPHER HERNANDEZ
Christopher Hernandez, 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
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.





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