Suffolk: Concern over use of police tasers
POLICE forces have come under fire from mental health charities after new figures revealed a wide use of Taser guns on people threatening to self harm.
Dozens of incidents were recorded in which Tasers were used by police to stop people committing suicide or harming themselves in the last three years.
The use of Tasers by Suffolk police since 2010 included 13 incidents in which people were believed to be suicidal or threatening to self-harm.
Concerns have been voiced by Rethink Mental Illness which said it was “inappropriate” to fire the weapons at people in mental distress, while the charity Mind called for greater training for officers dealing with vulnerable people.
It follows Freedom of Information requests to every police force across England and Wales which revealed the varied use of Tasers on people who were not charged with an offence.
Of the 43 forces, 15 provided details of Tasers being fired at people who were not charged by police.
Nationally, they included girls as young as 17 being Tasered, a 55-year-old woman who lost consciousness after being shot following concerns for her safety and a 64-year-old man who was shot when police feared he might harm himself.
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Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “I think it is completely inappropriate for police to use a Taser gun on someone who is threatening self-harm, and we are very concerned to hear that this is happening in some police forces.
“If someone is clearly in great mental distress, having a Taser gun used on them will seriously exacerbate their condition. People who take anti-psychotic medication may also be vulnerable to suffering a fatal injury if Tasered, as some medications greatly weaken the heart.”
Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said: “Tasers are extreme and controversial weapons that we believe should only be used as a last resort by police.”
Tasers incapacitate subjects by passing 50,000 volts of electricity into the body via two 21ft wires.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) defended the use of the weapons and stressed that officers assess every incident to decide whether they will help protect an individual or the public.
An ACPO spokesman said: “Police officers are highly trained in the use of Taser and make an assessment before using it based on the situation and the threat to the public, or the individual concerned.
“In some circumstances these people may fall into different categories, such as age, but these categories do not diminish the risk to the public or the individual and each police officer will make an independent assessment at the scene of an incident before using Taser.
“This is just one of a range of tactics that police can use to protect the public or an individual.”