Using force reasonably and appropriately
Our police officers are selected and trained to exert authority and restore order to situations without the use of force, as far as possible. However, for our police to keep communities safe, there will be occasions when it is necessary for officers to use reasonable and proportionate force. Sometimes that force will be needed to protect the wider community. Occasionally force may even be necessary to ensure a person does not cause significant harm to themselves. Typically, any decision an officer makes about the use of force will involve a fine judgement about the balance of harm and risk.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I will support the use of force by an officer when it is reasonable and justified. However, I also recognise that the use of force should only usually come into play after other means of de-escalating a situation have been considered.
There has been much recent press coverage of the “use” of Taser by Essex Police in recent days. Home Office statistics comparing police forces across England and Wales to the end of 2013 are published here.
The “use” of Taser is a complicated subject, and there are definitions of the different types of use at the bottom of this piece. The most recent figures for Essex Police show that from July to December 2013, Taser was used 76 times. These “uses”* break down to:
Drawn 10; Aimed 8; Arced 3; Red Dotted 37; Drive Stun 2; Fired 16
There has been an increase in the overall “use” of Taser since 2009, when there were 44 uses, compared with 152 uses in 2013. A similar broad increase in the “use” of Taser can be seen in most police forces across the country and, in Essex, Taser is “used” less than in many other counties. I note that in Kent, with a similar population and range of challenges, there were 229 “uses” in 2013.
The level of force and the circumstances in which police officers “use” Taser is an area of legitimate public interest. There are risks with the discharge of Taser, and this matter has been raised at our public meetings and through other channels. On reflection, I believe it is important that I introduce a framework to monitor and review the use of force by Essex Police on a regular basis.
I should stress that this is not because I have any specific concerns about the actions of officers, but rather because it is precisely the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner to provide oversight on behalf of the public on such matters. Therefore, over the next few weeks, I will be developing a monitoring framework with Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh. I also plan on taking the broad issue of the reasonable and proportionate “use” of Taser to the Ethics and Integrity Committee which I am setting up here in our county.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex
* Taser ‘use’ includes any time a Taser is drawn, aimed, red-dotted, arced, drive-stunned, or discharged.
– ‘Drawn’ means an officer draws a Taser which a person could perceive as a ‘use of force’ whether or not accompanied by a verbal warning.
– ‘Aimed’ means a Taser is aimed at a person but the safety is not removed (i.e., the red dot laser sight is not activated).
– ‘Red dot:’ the safety is removed and the red dot laser sight is activated and placed on a subject but the Taser is not fired.
– ‘Arced’ means the Taser is sparked without a cartridge being fired.
– ‘Drive Stun:’ the Taser is pressed against a person and cycled – this imparts a shock without firing the probes/barbs.
– ‘Discharged’ means a Taser is fired and the probes/barbs are discharged towards somebody.