A teenage boy with learning difficulties was Tasered in the grounds of Chelfham Senior School near Plymouth, which is owned by the Priory Group and caters for children with learning difficulties, including behavioural, emotional, and autism.
Devon and Cornwall police officers were called to an incident in the grounds of the school on 1st December involving three boys, and Devon and Cornwall police have confirmed that a Taser was deployed at 9.20pm during the incident.
The use of the Taser has been criticised by Sophie Khann, a solicitor-advocate a legal director at the Police Action Centre. She told the Western Morning News “The use of a Taser on this occasion has to be called into question. The police action may have been excessive.
“The use on children is only allowed if it is the only feasible method of restraining the child. It’s only there if there are no other alternatives to restrain the child,” she said.
“Often officers can say they weren’t aware of behaviour issues, but in this case they must have been aware. Using a Taser on someone suffering some kind of behavioural difficulty or disability is something the policy or guidance doesn’t allow.”
The three boys involved in the incident, which allegedly involved knives being brandished at officers, have been charged with affray.
The day and residential school for boys and girls aged seven to 19 is owned by the Priory Group, a private company known for its addiction clinics favoured by celebrities. It is in the village of Bere Alston in the Devon countryside, close to Dartmoor National Park.
A spokeswoman for the school said it was “an isolated incident on the school grounds and as legal proceedings are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further”.
Devon and Cornwall Police are being investigated by the police watchdog over an incident in which a man who doused himself in petrol burst into flames when he was shot with a Taser. Andrew Pimlott, 32, suffered horrific injuries in the confrontation outside his house and died in a hospital burns unit five days later.
However, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has not been contacted in relation to the incident at Chelfham.
Tasers were first trialled in 2004 and their use has since been rolled out to all forces in England and Wales. Officers are required to take a training course before being allowed to use a Taser and they are told only to deploy them when threatened with violence.
Home Office figures showed that the total deployment of Tasers increased each year from 3,128 in 2009, to 6,649 in 2010 and 7,877 in 2011.
Incidents where a Taser was used but “not discharged” include when the weapon was drawn and aimed; when it was “arced” – which means sparking it without having a target; and when it was “red-dotted” – which means using the targeting mechanism without firing.
Most of those cases when a Taser was “discharged” involved the Taser being fired – where the probes are shot towards the target still attached to the weapon by copper wiring. It can also be used to “drive stun” – where it is held against the target’s body.
The percentage figures provided by the Home Office suggest that discharges increased from around 850 in 2009, to around 1,650 in 2010 and around 2,050 in 2011.
The use of “drive-stunning” grew by one percentage point to 5% of all uses from 2010 to 2011.
Acpo has recently issued new guidance discouraging the use of Tasers at point-blank range. It believes the use of the weapon in “drive-stun” mode often serves only to antagonise the victim further.
Currently, 11% of police officers – 14,700 – are armed with Tasers.
At the top of a Taser there are two contact points which need to link together. In order to do this, the Taser generates a highest peak voltage of 50,000 volts for less than a second to allow the arc jump a gap so the two contact points meet. The Taser also does this in incidents where a probe lodges in clothing and must jump the gap to the body.
When travelling across the human body, the peak voltage drops to 1,200 volts.
The average current a Taser emits is 0.0021amps.
A Taser works not by power, but by the way it sends the current into the body and how the muscles respond. For example, the energy delivered per pulse is 0.07 joules compared to a cardiac defibrillator which typically delivers 150-400 joules per pulse, which is 2,000 to 5,000 times more powerful.
The use of Tasers has come under criticism after several incidents in which police used the guns on innocent victims, including the case of blind pensioner Colin Farmer, who was Tasered after police mistook his white stick for a sword.
In another incident, a 14 year-old girl was Tasered ‘by accident’ as police tried to arrest a suspect in Nottingham. In Lancashire a man said he was Tasered after refusing to take his pants off in custody, and in another, a man from Lincolnshire accused police of ‘excessive force’ after he was Tasered while riding his bicycle.
The use of Tasers on people under the age of eighteen has also increased, with Tasers being deployed on average 140 times per year on youngsters.
Mental health charities Mind and Rethink have criticised the use of Tasers on people with mental health problems – especially their use on people who intend to commit suicide or harm themselves.
Rethink said it was ‘inappropriate’ to fire the weapons at those in distress, and the charity Mind called for greater training for officers in dealing with vulnerable people.
The use of Tasers is rising each year as offices appear to be relying on the technology to resolve conflicts instead of using traditional policing skills.
Jules Carey, a lawyer who represents several clients taking action against the police over Taser use, told The Guardian “There is a real concern around training and judgment. The worry is that Tasers may become the default method of restraint rather than being used as nearly lethal force to prevent serious crime.”
Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said in a statement “From the review we have carried out of Taser complaints and our own investigations we do have concerns about some of the ways and circumstances in which the Taser is used, bearing in mind that each use must be justified as being necessary and proportionate to the perceived threat. In particular we have previously expressed concerns to ACPO about the use of Taser in ‘drive stun’ mode, directly against the body.”
The police have become a force rather than a service, and this is reflected in the way they are being recruited, trained, deployed, and the equipment they are being issued.
Willingly or unwillingly, police officers see their role more and more as ‘enforcers’ rather than advisors and negotiators who should be championing mutual respect, community living and other social attributes to maintain a peaceful society.
Today in the UK, you will rarely see a police officer walking around your community talking to residents, or advising youths of acceptable behaviour towards others.
The day of the ‘bobby on the beat’ is long gone, and so has the majority of the public’s respect for the police in general.
For most people they will only see police officers when they are involved in some kind of criminality, either as victims or perpetrators, or during busy periods in town and city centres – let alone see them walking around their local communities chatting with people and dropping in for a cup of tea.
The human (or humane) factor has been removed from policing in the UK as the police become further distanced from the communities and people they are supposed to serve.
We saw the introduction of ‘Community Support Officers’ in the UK as a cheap initiative to show some kind of pretend policing on the streets. But now, through budget cuts and ‘streamlining’ even they have all but disappeared from the streets of most communities.
There was a time when you knew who your ‘local bobby’ was and probably knew them by their first name. If you were crossing the line of acceptable behaviour they may have a ‘quiet word’ in your ear and that would be the end of the matter provided you listened. If you had a problem you could probably have a chat with them and get real advice without the fear of a ‘Spanish inquisition’ or being hauled off to the nearest police station (provided it wasn’t serious of course).
The local bobby was an efficient crime prevention measure. The real advice of an experienced bobby probably prevented many from entering into a life of criminality, and certainly prevented the kind of anti-social crime that has become the blight of society in the modern day.
As with any group of people, there were good ones and bad ones, but overall there was a real human connection which fostered far better relationships between the police and the community that we see today.
Perhaps there are adults under about forty years of age who have never experienced having a local bobby in their community, and never experienced being able to communicate with the police as members of their community. Their only experience may be of the police as an aloof force designed to enforce.
The police used to have respect, even among the hardened criminal fraternity – but that is a very long and distant memory.
The police have become a corporate force rather than a service. Targets, management (or mismanagement), budgets, ‘monitoring’, and a massive shift in the perception of the role of the police has been its downfall.
As the more traditional police officers have aged and retired, they have been replaced by a new breed.
Many people joined the police force to provide a necessary and valuable service to the community. They were selected for their common-sense approach and ability to handle different situations in a sensible and even-handed way – without resorting to arresting the entire population of planet earth for the slightest misdemeanour. They showed initiative and were able to take responsibility for their actions and judge when a ‘quiet word’ was more appropriate than Tasering someone or spraying them with a cocktail of noxious chemicals. They could look after themselves in a fight and the only ‘weapon’ they needed was a stick of wood with a lump of lead in the end of it. The police attracted applicants who were able to do the job.
Now the situation is very, very different.
Common sense seems to have disappeared (as it has in many areas of society) and the police force has turned into a ‘tick-tock land’ of machines in uniform. There are exceptions of course, and not all police officers are mindless robots by any means. The problem seems to be with the majority who lack the capacity to relate to people (which one would think would be an essential part of the job), whose only knowledge of life is within the narrow perspective of their own world and what they are told to believe through endless ‘training’, policies and procedures, and whose perception of policing is to enforce the will of their government masters rather than being an integral part of a humane community.
One of the most ridiculous developments of recent times has been police officers trying to sue victims of crime!
Kelly Jones took legal action against a garage because she tripped while investigating a break in (we understand she has since dropped the case after public outrage) – other damages claims have been made for falling off a bicycle, being subjected to a loud noise, and all kinds of other most ridiculous claims. It must make us question the kind of people who are attracted to policing and why they were employed in this essential role in the first place.
There have been claims that UK police forces are becoming more aggressive and violent in their handling of incidents. However, figures produced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission do not support this, with complaints concerning police aggression remaining about the same since 2008. Of course, this only concerns the number of complaints made to that organisation which may or may not reflect the true level of police aggression.
Perhaps the perception of police aggression being on the rise is because of several high-profile cases, such as the tragic death of G20 bystander Ian Tomlinson in 2009 who died as a result of being forcefully pushed to the floor by a police officer.
There have been instances of police aggression reported in the press, but whether this represents a real rise in police brutality is difficult to ascertain. Official statistics are official statistics and are as reliable and unreliable as they have always been, and anecdotal claims are just that – anecdotal usually with an agenda attached.
It is difficult to perceive a police service instead of a force in the current climate of cuts, increased workloads, less resources, redundancies, and increased management pressure – which all filter down to front line police officers.
In the current climate, police officers are damned whatever they do, and constantly come under criticism from political prostitutes in government, and from communities and the general public.
The starting salary for a police officer has been cut to £19,000 per year, the working conditions are highly stressful, there is the constant threat of violence or death, and the police officer will not be respected by their masters or those they are supposed to serve. So the question is ‘What kind of person would be attracted to a job like that?’
Think about it, and therein is the answer to the future of policing in the UK – and it’s certainly not based in the concepts of serving the public or maintaining a humane society.