IOPC report flags concerns about police use of Taser

Published: 25 Aug 2021

The use of Tasers by police risks losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the public if community concerns are not addressed through improvements to national guidance, training and scrutiny of Taser use the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) warned today.

The warning follows this publication of a review of 101 independent investigations carried out by the IOPC between 2015 and 2020 which involved a Taser being used.

The review looked at existing data and research, and considered the views of a range of community groups and other stakeholders.

The report makes 17 recommendations – to the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the Home Office – seeking improvements to national guidance and training; scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use; and data and research.

Commenting on the findings, IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said: “There is no doubt that Tasers are a valuable tool for keeping both the public and police safe in dangerous circumstances.

“However, it is important there is ongoing independent scrutiny of Taser use so that both the police and the community can be assured they are being used appropriately. Clearer national guidance on the circumstances in which Taser should and should not be used and better training will improve officer safety, as well as give the public reassurance that Taser is being used only when absolutely necessary.

“Police forces must be able to justify to the public the circumstances in which Taser is deployed, particularly when children and vulnerable people are involved. Forces must also respond to the disproportionate use of Tasers against Black people.”

The review highlighted concerns about the number of cases – almost a third – where we identified potential missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation. There were also concerns around prolonged and multiple Taser discharges from our review. 

Mr Lockwood said: “Tasers are available to more officers than ever before. Our engagement with communities has highlighted a stark difference between their expectations about when a Taser should be used, and the situations in which Taser can be used under current national guidance, particularly on those who are vulnerable. Police forces must be able to explain this clearly or risk further eroding public confidence – it is a gap which must be closed.

“In particular, people from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds deserve a clear and transparent answer from police on why such disproportionality still exists – failure to address this risks undermining the legitimacy of policing.

“We’d like to see communities more involved in decisions around the use of Taser - Police and crime commissioners have an important role to play providing this assurance at a local level.

“I welcome the research announced in December last year by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to understand and tackle the root causes of racial disproportionality in police use of Taser. I am also aware of the positive and proactive work being undertaken by the National Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group in this area. The College of Policing’s new conflict management guidelines and the proposed training are also welcome and are steps in the right direction. 

“Ultimately, policing has to change and be more responsive to community concern or risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public. These recommendations now sit with policing bodies and forces to act on.” 

Our investigation looked at 101 independent investigations, which involved:

  • • 108 people subjected to Taser use; 94 of them had a Taser discharged against them.
  • Of those people, 71% were White, 22% were Black, less than 4% were Asian and less than 2% were of mixed ethnicity.
  • The average age was 35 years old. Six people were aged under 18.
  • 26 investigations led to a finding that an officer may have behaved in a manner that would justify bringing disciplinary proceedings or a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Four inquests found the use of Taser in combination with other factors contributed to, or were relevant in, a person’s death.
  • One case resulted in a criminal trial where an officer was convicted of unlawful manslaughter.
  • Use of force and armed policing