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Factfile: The Police and Tasers

In August 2016, former footballer Dalian Atkinson died after being shot with a Taser by a Metropolitan Police officer.

The use of Tasers in the UK has long been controversial, but what are the facts? Why do the police use Tasers, and what are some of the risks associated with them? What are Tasers and how are they used?

The current Taser in use by the Metropolitan Police is the X26 model. The voltage of the devices peaks at 50,000V, but by the time it reaches the body the voltage is substantially smaller. They are used by officers in conjunction with other defensive tools, such as batons and police dogs and police use a process called the National Decision Model to work out whether the use of a Taser is necessary.

When discharged on a subject, Tasers cause "the loss of some voluntary muscle control resulting in the subject falling to the ground or freezing on the spot." (Metropolitan Police) Training Individual police forces are responsible for training their officers on proper use of Tasers.

The Tasers themselves are yellow, making them distinctive and easily visible. The College of Policing advises that, in the event of an incident that may require the use of the weapon, officers should display their Taser and shout 'Taser, Taser' as a warning. 

The Metropolitan Police states that Tasers "may be deployed and used as one of a number of tactical options only after application of the National Decision Model (NDM)." They go on to explain that the firing officer is responsible for explaining their reasons for discharging the weapon: "A police officer will always have to justify their actions as being necessary and proportionate under the law."

The figures

According to Home Office figures, Tasers were aimed or fired 38,000 times by police in the period between 2010 and 2015. In the majority of these cases though, the weapon was not actually fired. Of the 10,061 Taser incidents in 2014, only 17% actually resulted in the weapon being fired.

In most cases, the officer only had to draw or aim the weapon to resolve the situation.  Risks There are many potential risks associated with using Tasers. Officers are advised not to discharge the weapons on the vulnerable or children, though there is no specific legislation in place to stop a Taser being used on a child. In 2014, 522 Taser incidents were against those under the age of eighteen.

Deaths

Dalian Atkinson is not the first person to die following a Taser incident. In 2013, Jordan Begley, who was unarmed, had a Taser fired on him after police were called to his home when his mother reported that he had a knife following a dispute with neighbours.

An inquest in to Mr Begley's death found that the weapon's effects "more than materially contributed" to a "package" of circumstances causing his death. At the time, Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley said that she had "decided to restrict the operational duties of the officers involved in the Taser discharge and restraint until we have had time to fully consider the coroner's comments and have further dialogue with the IPCC".