TASER devices drawn by Bedfordshire police hundreds of times in a year
Though officers only discharged them on 24 occasions
Police in Bedfordshire used TASER devices hundreds of times in a year, figures show.
In a new report, the Independent Office for Police Conduct raised serious concerns around the unnecessary or unsafe use of the devices by forces across England and Wales, particularly against non-white or vulnerable people and children.
The report from the police watchdog made 17 recommendations to bodies including the Home Office, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs' Council, calling for improvements to the national guidance, training, scrutiny and monitoring of TASER device use.
The latest Home Office data shows that Bedfordshire Police drew TASER devices 247 times in the year to March 2020, though officers only discharged the electric shock weapons on 24 occasions.
The figures count the number of times officers involved in an incident used their TASER device rather than the number of separate incidents.
Detective Superintendent Nick Skipworth, Bedfordshire Police’s lead for use of force, said: “TASER devices were only discharged handfuls of times in Bedfordshire last year.
“This all comes at a time when assaults on police officers and other emergency service workers are increasing, with more than 250 people charged with assaults on Bedfordshire Police officers since April 2020.
“It is important that officers are supported and have the tools they need to keep themselves safe, while ensuring that any use of force is rigorously scrutinised.
“We have a thorough structure of scrutiny around our use of force, including an internal panel and an independent scrutiny panel made up of members from the community, which reviews statistics as well as video footage of randomly selected examples of where we have used force, including drawing and discharging TASER devices.
“This replicates the scrutiny we have in place around stop and search, which has been praised as an example of best practice nationally and has played a big part in us having among the lowest levels of disproportionality in stop and search of all police forces.”
Chief Constable Lucy D'Orsi, the NPCC's lead for less lethal weapons, said that TASER devices were critical in protecting both officers and the public facing violent situations.
She acknowledged improvements could be made but said officers were already well scrutinised when it came to using reasonable force, adding: "Policing is not easy and in many violent situations I believe TASER devices are a viable less lethal option for officers between using a baton and the lethal force of a gun.
"Officers are well trained to use the reasonable force given to them in law to confront the violence or threat of violence they are faced with when they protect the public and themselves."
The IOPC report warned that police risked losing public confidence if concerns around TASER device use were not thoroughly addressed.
IOPC director Michael Lockwood said forces must be able to justify the circumstances in which TASER devices are deployed and must respond to a national disproportionality in use against black people.
Across England and Wales, black people were eight times more likely to be subject to use of TASER devices than white people in 2019-20, according to the IOPC report.
Where ethnicity was recorded, the figures for Bedfordshire Police show that white people were involved in 157 incidents of TASER device use over the same period, compared to 40 involving black people.
In five cases, no ethnicity was recorded.
The National Police Chiefs' Council and the College of Policing are carrying out a review to understand and tackle the racial disproportionalities in TASER devices used nationally.
Ms D'Orsi said the work would remain a policing priority.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, of human rights campaign group Amnesty International, said: “The police have a disturbing track record of disproportionately using TASER devices against black people and those in mental distress.
“In some circumstances, TASER devices can be effective if used by well-trained officers to prevent loss of life or serious injury but they’re open to misuse and over-use."
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our police officers must be equipped with the resources, tools and powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe – including TASER devices.
“Officers in England and Wales pass one of the most comprehensive training programmes in the world before being authorised with a TASER devices.
"In 86 per cent of cases where a TASER devices are drawn, it is not discharged, demonstrating its impact as a powerful deterrent that deescalates dangerous situations.”