A Shot at Taser

Yesterday I read a blog by Sophie Khan. The blog is about Taser, its dangers and the issuing of it to police officers and is on the Solicitors Journal website. You can read the blog here. I later tweeted about it.

Unfortunately the article gets off to a very poor start by taking a pot shot at the new Commissioner for the Metropolitan police and trivialises the good work he is no doubt trying to commence in this force that is without doubt carrying a few problems at the moment. How the main topic of the post can be lumped in with TV licences and uninsured drivers is puerile and unnecessary. But I read on and the final part of this sentence relates to the proposal to increase deployment of Taser on the streets of London. She states;

This backdoor militarisation of our unarmed police force, if implemented, would end centuries of traditional ‘policing by consent’ and propel us into a dangerous world of ‘policing by compliance’ where those arrested will be routinely subjected to 50,000 volts of electric shock.

I find this a very alarmist and un-evidenced swipe at the professionalism of the (136,000) police officers in this country. (Note the reduction from 140,000). I may be wrong but “backdoor” is a term that is used when something is slipped in unnoticed. The dictionary describes the adjective as;

secret; furtive; illicit; indirect.

Mr Hogan-Howe has clearly been quite open about his thoughts and would not appear to be slipping this decision past an unsuspecting public. If Mr Hogan-Howe were engaging Ms Khan in a debate at the front door about Taser whilst slipping full-blown firearms to every officer in London by the backdoor… then that would meet this statement. It has to be said that this is simply not the case and any indication this is underhand and secret is folly.

The piece then covers the statement made by Mr Hogan-Howe following the stabbing of officers in Harrow. She goes on to state this comment is made in “isolation” of the current statistics that show a rise of 130% in the use of taser across all forces. In order to show an increase in usage by a percentage she needs to have a starting point to base that calculation on. This point is not stated and so is this a rise since Taser was first introduced or from the end of last month? She does not show the source for this figure so it’s somewhat difficult to prove its accuracy and rely upon it in any way. Notwithstanding, the quote of such a figure is again not really surprising. Many years ago police walked everywhere. There were police boxes and we used whistles  and when it was an emergency we ran.

We then progressed to pedal cycles and ultimately patrol cars. I wonder if on the routine use of police cars there was a solicitor somewhere waving their arms about shouting that deaths by police drivers had gone up 200% and we shouldn’t be allowed to have access to them. Why would this not be a surprise? My force has gone from a mere handful of trained officers to quite a number who are fully qualified. I understand the aim is to have 2 officers on each team that are able to be deployed. It therefore stands to reason that the use of the equipment is going to rise. Does this mean it is being used unlawfully and with vindictiveness toward passive, innocent members of the public. Of course it doesn’t and any suggestion as Ms Khan states;

where those arrested will be routinely subjected to 50,000 volts of electric shock.

is clearly nonsense. She goes on to quote the ACPO guidance which all makes sense until the suggestion that officers would be exposing themselves to prosecution for torture. How scary is that! It’s a wonder anybody would ever join the police if they thought this was likely to happen. Sadly Ms Khan seems to forget the simple and long-standing basis of s3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967. This is enshrined in UK policing and means that every single individual officer has to be able to justify the force they use and be able to prove that it was reasonable. Officers don’t use force on the direction of another, or the Government. They are empowered to act as themselves and they ultimately carry the can when they overstep the mark.

Her next paragraph shows a complete and total lack of understanding for police, our work and the risks we face on a day-to-day basis. The compilation of a list that indicates situations where Taser can and cannot be used if fanciful ignorance. We deal with people. People are unique, individual and react in totally different ways to the next. People are not predictable. The minute we start to treat all members of the public as predictable is the moment that the Police National Memorial will need to look at expansion plans. We have to take people as we find them, the environment they are in and the circumstances of their situation. Guidelines are simply that. “GUIDELINES”. They cannot and would not expect to cover every single situation that officers may face. We fall back to the previous statement regarding s3 of the Criminal Law Act. The officers must assess, use and justify what force is used and sometimes with a fraction of a second to make that decision.

The final section of Ms Khan’s post covers some figures for the Taser company and draws comparisons to the police in the United States. Any such comparison is futile as the policing operation in the United States is entirely different to that in the UK. You only have to look at the tweets from retired LAPD Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster in the states to see how many officers are killed and how many people are shot dead by the american police. They operate in a totally different arena and the two cannot be drawn to a juxtaposition. This shows Ms Khan’s desire to pull information from any source that supports her argument without any reference how incompatible the source and reference are.

I stand by my original tweet. I disagree entirely with her post. The issue of Taser is approved by the home office and being introduced by forces around the country. I don’t know that the routine arming of all officers with Taser is a good idea, even if only based on cost but I have seen far to many friends and colleagues stabbed, beaten and killed where Taser may well have assisted. The deployment of the kit on a vehicle that is 30 mins away is no use to the officer who needs it right now. Therefore whilst it may be unpalatable to some, the increase and more widespread use of Taser is inevitable.

I will close with one final sentence. Ms Khan makes reference to the fact that officers using Taser could be torturing their target contrary to Sch 3 of the ECHR. How unsettling and worrying that she makes no reference to the police officers rights on Sch 2. The officers right to life. The officer who has a right to come to work and go home to his/her family at the end of the day. Not to wind up in hospital or worse still a wooden box.


27 thoughts on “A Shot at Taser”

  1. Great blog, I also saw her post but felt unable to reply as she was simply not worth it. A credit to you that you did.

  2. of course she wouldnt mention the officers rights as she comes across as and i beleive she is an out and out police hater

  3. That you for your very cogent, comprehensive, structured and dispassionate analysis of ms khan’s “argument”.

    Ms Khan’s specialism, from what I understand from her firm’s website, is civil actions against the Police. More than anyone, she should be aware of ACPO guidelines and the requirement for an officer to justify with full explained reasons every use of force – including simple restraint.

    Ms Khan description of the police is one most people these days don’t recognise.

    Perhaps business is slow.

  4. Unless you’ve been standing in front of drunken maniac weilding a machete (where do they get these things? Are they butchers by trade?) and tried using harsh language to ‘bring him down’ to a point you can think about applying bracelets to him, you have no idea what it’s really like and no idea how unbelievably scary it can be in a highly charged atmosphere. Ms Khan needs to wake up and smell the coffee. This isn’t Heartbeat country anymore and it’s not likely to be getting any better. It’s sad but thats the way it is. I would welcome them as an add on to my bat-belt, although I would draw the line at full firearms.

  5. Difficult. I have read the original Blog and this reply. My own views are somewhere I between but closer to those of Sophie Khan.
    I have an interest in this in that I am a Solicitor and I often represent people arrested by the Police. I respect the Police generally and I certainly don’t want officers to be injured or put at risk in any way. But my experience has shown that if you provide an officer with a PAVA spray (CS spray or Pepper spray) then whilst that provides an extra option to the frontline officer dealing with a difficult situation, all too often it becomes the first option. Situations which would have been dealt with without violence seem to now be dealt with by use of PAVA spray.
    I seem to recall guidance some years ago indicating that spray should not be aimed directly in a suspect’s face, should not be used at distances of less than six feet and so on. I regularly see situations where officers have used PAVA spray directly in someone’s face at very close range in circumstances where, before PAVA was introduced, an experienced officer would often have dealt with a similar situation by sheer personality and presence.
    I know. I wasn’t there. I’m relying on what I read in those statements. But I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now and these are my very real impressions.

    What has this to do with Tasers?

    My concern is that just as PAVA has come to be used more readily and in situations outside the original guidance, so Taser use may well follow the same path.

    This leads to the police being seen generally by the public in a less friendly and approachable light and ultimately that is bad for Society and bad for the Police.

    And what comes next? Lasers we hear. Already in use by the military in some situations.
    And after that? Do we routinely arm the Police?

    Well, those are my thoughts. There should be some room for discussion from that.

    1. I’ve been a serving police officer in the suburbs of Birmingham for nearly 10 years. In all that time, I’ve never used CS or my baton. Good communication always prevails.

      1. I very strongly agree. I’m not saying there is no place for PAVA Taser Laser or even firearms. I worry about routine use of these and the change in attitudes towards the police as a result.

    2. In all my years I have never had to use my CS in anger, predominantly because this tool of the trade is more likely to debilitate me more than the bad guy. My tolerance of the stuff is zero. I have used tac comms, restraining techniques, UDT’s, handcuffs, leg restraints, baton (once) harsh language and a fence panel (long story). This is to deal with persons who are a bit arsey to those who are grade A loons. Yes, I know when to back off but I also know when inaction will drop me just as much smelly stuff if it goes wrong. One day I am going to meet a loon who is just that bit stronger than me and my mate, is immune to CS / PARVA and has no pain threshold. That day, if I’m lucky, I’m going to get a shoe-ing as armed response is always 30 minutes away and for some reason I cannot ‘withdraw’. I do not want taser, I would much rather police with consent. I never wanted a stab vest but I have to wear it in case I get injured on duty – if I don’t wear it, my family’s compensation will be reduced. I never really wanted CS as the stuff makes me vomit but it is useful to ‘present’ when it all goes wrong. BUT we live in 21st century Britain and whilst it’s a long way from downtown LA we have our problems. 1000’s of police officers face danger every day armed with just a stick, stabbie and goodwill. I think the least we can do is give them the right tools and trust them to use it effectively. After all you wouldnt give an electrician a hammer to rewire a house would you?

    3. 30 years ago the officer would only have a wooden truncheon and handcuffs. CS spray( for which you’ve got it all wrong by the way) is a safer option that hitting someone, as is taser. So I’m sorry yr argument doesn’t hold water.

      1. I respect your point of view. I have heard many times the argument that it is better to use PAVA than to hit someone with a “baton”.
        I have a no problem with that scenario. My point (which perhaps I am making badly after a glass or two of refreshment) is that when you have these items (PAVA Taser etc) it is sometimes too easy to resort to them when they are not needed. Example: suspect was underneath his Landrover when located by Police. He didn’t want to come out. He was offering no threat. Officer sprayed him in face with PAVA. These facts come from the officer’s statement, not from the suspect. I know it is difficult to comment on individual cases but there are many many examples like that. My view is that the officer in that case damaged the credibility of the Police generally.
        I stress I am against the ROUTINE use of these items

  6. There is, I’m sure you would admit, some merit in the suggestion that the routine arming of officers with Taser is a move away from “policing by consent” to “policing by force” (or at the very least “policing by threat of force”). I’m also of the view that routine arming of officers with Taser is a short hop away from routine arming of officers with live firearms. Such a move, I suggest, might lead to a more dangerous society.

    The debate is largely theoretical as until it’s introduced. However, figures I possess from the Met show a reduction in its use. The following figures obtained from the Met under FOI and relate to CO11 and CO19 uses of Taser:

    (a) There were 379 Taser incidents between 1 Jan 2008 and 31 Dec 2008
    (b) There were 257 Taser incidents between 1Jan 2009 and 31 Dec 2009
    (c) There were 292 Taser incidents between 1 Jan 2010 and 31 Dec 2010

    While there was an increase from 2009 to 2010 the 2010 figures were still lower than the 2008 figures. In the first half of 2011 (i.e. 1 Jan 2011 to 31 Jun 2011) there were 56 Taser incidents within the Met area.

    Use doesn’t seem to be increasing, but I do wonder whether “fear of the police” will with time grow as Taser is more widely issued and that’s not good. You want a society to respect its police, not be fearful of them.

  7. The average ‘Roadwars’ viewer knows more about policing than this ignorant, biased, inaccurate, ill-informed excuse for a solicitor. I really think the police ought to make a complaint to the law society about her published writing about taser.

    It’s almost as if she’s on a mission to make the public think the police are violent thugs. She appears to be almost consumed with hatred for our police forces and I find this bizarre and very worrying.

    1. a few complaints went in to them about her and the fuck the police blog the other week she must be the most anti police person around

  8. I like the way she states that because there have been some deaths (mainly USA) that this tool to help protect the public actually does the oposite! That’s the most rediculus use of so called ‘evidence to prove a point’ I’ve ever heard. I bet more people have been killed by overdossing on painkillers, a thing who’s design is to help the public. Does she think we should ban painkillers because some people die from them? They never point out in their argument about the dangers of Taser that it’s normally used (especially in America) instead of a gun! What would she prefer officers to use on a knife wielding man charging at them? A tool that may potentially kill them if certain unfortunate and unforseen cercumstances are present (heart attack etc) or a tool that WILL kill them?

  9. Report Sophie Khan to the law society? For what? Even she has an article 10 right to freedom of expression.

    Jesus, people. She may be indulging in high drama, but this isn’t the Stasi.


  10. Sorry, but I’m going to go off now. What a nation of “I’m going to report you” weenies.

    Are you seriously going to tell my employers or mother that you’re pissed off because you don’t like what I’ve said?

    Unhappy with this post? Feel free to complain about me and my views? Address your complaint to D Cameron, 10 Downing Street. And then get a grip.


  11. A very open and honest reflection to Ms Khan’s blog. Well done you.
    I haven’t read her blog as quite frankly I don’t want to read something that is one sided and doesn’t give a balanced view.

  12. Ms Khan is offensive and her childish hysterical anti-police nonsense speaks volumes about her inability to use rational argument and supportive evidence when engaging in debate. Her inarticulate rants are surprising given the nature of her advocacy work and in common with some legal professionals she reverts to bullying to emphasise her point of view with an air of pseudo-intellectual superiority. Her belief is overwhelmingly that police cannot be trusted with laser, that the public are at risk from taser-welding police officers, that police aren’t confronted with taser-appropriate situations often enough and that the safety of police officers is not important enough to be safeguarded. Ms Khan has also in the past stated that violent encounters involving police are due to a failure of the police to communicate effectively. These ‘beliefs’ can be challenged and altered by the evidence, if only Ms Khan were as good a listener as a babbling self-publicist.

    1. oh, I’ll go one step further and note she is a blithering idiot.

      Feel free to challenge away. Make her look like the hysterical moron she is. That won’t be difficult.

      What I object to is the “neaner, neaner” approach of “i’m going to shop you to the SRA”.

      Newsflash: the SRA will not care. In fact, they will probably tell you she has a right, like all of us, to make an arse out of herself”.

      She is an attention-seeking child. Ignore her.

  13. One thing that strikes me (not having read the offending post) is that we *are* introducing tasers by the backdoor.

    In the Raul Moat case, the Taser used by the police had NOT been approved and the officer had never used it before (source BBC news http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-14914425 ).

    If we’re going to arm the police – there needs to be an open debate about it. That is happening now – but I’m uneasy about surreptitious experiments without discussion.

    While the style of policing in the US may be different to here, we do see police officers resort to Tasers fairly quickly. They have been used against someone in a diabetic coma (source Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-494199/Police-shot-diabetic-coma-Taser–thought-suicide-bomber.html ) and against an 89 year old man (Source Dail Post http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2009/01/14/north-wales-police-taser-on-oap-was-diabolical-55578-22687035/ )

    One thing I’ve always wondered – does Taser training include being shocked? If so, I wonder if that has any affect on an officer’s willingness to use it?

    I think Tasers are a potentially useful tool – but it’s not clear to me that they are being deployed or used appropriately.

  14. One final point

    I wonder if on the routine use of police cars there was a solicitor somewhere waving their arms about shouting that deaths by police drivers had gone up 200% and we shouldn’t be allowed to have access to them.

    I’m sure someone, somewhere has up to date statistics on how many people have been killed by police speeding or driving dangerously. I wouldn’t say that the police shouldn’t have cars – but they should be properly trained how to use them. If they do cause death or injury – they should be investigated and (if appropriate) punished.

    Sadly, that doesn’t seem to happen.

    This from the former head of the GMP’s traffic section (sorry for the long quote)

    “In 2008/9, three people died in firearms incidents across the country. Fifteen people died in custody. Some 40 people died on the roads. And yet there’s no ACPO lead on driver standards. Issues fall between driver training, roads policing and health and safety.

    “Yet the evidence shows it’s the most dangerous part of our work as police officers. Our training is good but there is no satisfactory risk assessment process once out in the work place.

    “We are letting down the public and the officers because we don’t oversee driving standards sufficiently. There is not enough governance over them and there is not enough control placed on police drivers.”

  15. As a retired Police Officer, the use of a taser for non-lethal use is comforting to Officer’s. The Officer’s can protect themselves, the victim as well as the suspect with minimal force. The high voltage you speak of only stuns the subject long enough to subdue without further incident. The arrest then ensues. Education and training is important. To this Sophie Khan, If you were held at knife-point, what would you expect trained Officer’s to do for you when they don’t have the equipment to end the confrontation peacefully?

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