IOPC calls on forces to refer Taser discharges on children after review

Published: 28 Apr 2022

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has requested police forces in England & Wales refer all Taser discharges on children under 18 where a complaint or conduct matter has arisen.

The move aims to increase national scrutiny on the discharge of Taser by police on children which is an area of concern for a wide range of stakeholders.

At present forces must refer incidents of Taser use on children to the IOPC when certain criteria are met. This includes any uses that result in death or serious injury.

Supported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), we have written to all forces encouraging them to make relevant referrals from 1 May 2022. At the end of a six-month period, we will review the data and decide whether Taser discharges on children should be subject to mandatory referral to the IOPC. Such a measure would require a change to legislation.

Our decision comes after a review of our cases involving Taser and the responses we received to our recommendations have now been published. The review looked at 101 independent IOPC investigations, existing data and research and considered the views of a range of community groups and stakeholders.

IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said: “Following our review and recommendations, we are now requesting that forces refer all Taser discharges involving children to us where there is a complaint or conduct matter. We want to establish better knowledge of the circumstances of each incident, and why the discharge was felt necessary by a police officer. We are pleased the NPCC is working with us on an area of significant public interest and concern.

“We are grateful for the response to our review. We recognise more work needs to be done to ensure all communities and stakeholders are confident in the police use of Taser. It is encouraging that there is a continued focus on the issues we have identified, including changes to police officer training being brought in by the College of Policing. We understand the NPCC, with the College, are reinforcing training to cover issues such as disproportionality, Tasering at height, when running, and use in front of a child, along with greater clarity that Taser should not be used for compliance only.

“We recognise Taser is a legitimate tool for police officers and they continue to be made available to more officers than ever before. There remains a difference of opinion between community expectations about when a Taser should be used, and the situations when Taser can be used legitimately under current national guidance. Use of Taser must be reasonable and proportionate to the threat officers are facing and Taser deployment must not act as the default tactic when others are available. Police forces must be able to justify to the public what circumstances led to them deploying a Taser as we look to ensure greater transparency between them and the communities they serve.”

We have also agreed to share data concerning all Taser incidents which result in death and serious injury, with the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons (SACMILL). This will help expand the pool of evidence that we, and other bodies, can use to identify any medical implications of Taser use thus helping to improve public and officer safety. This collaborative work is imperative in allowing us to improve the scrutiny around Taser deployments and police learning.

Home Office data shows that in 2020/21 there were 2,591 times where police used Taser involving those perceived to be under 18, and 123 incidents where Taser was discharged.

Our Taser review, issued in August last year, made 17 recommendations to organisations including the College of Policing, the NPCC, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the Home Office. These were set out within the following themes:

  • Guidance and training – Improving existing national guidance and training for officers, with a particular focus on vulnerable people and children, racial bias and disproportionality, and communication, and de-escalation skills.
  • Scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use – Providing greater scrutiny of Taser use at a local and national level, to identify and address any learning needs for forces and to inform stakeholders and community groups of actions and decisions taken.
  • Community engagement and input – Progressing and conducting further research to better understand race discrimination, disproportionality, the impact of racial bias and the risks of Taser use, particularly in relation to repeated and prolonged Taser discharges, and the psychological risks of Taser use on children.
  • Use of force and armed policing