In Depth

Police want more officers in UK to carry Taser

Man dies after being shot with the stun gun yet many officers demanding more on the street

A MAN died last night after being shot by police with a Taser stun gun in Greater Manchester – yet many officers are calling for greater access to the weapon.

It remains to be seen if the Taser led directly to the death of the 23-year-old, who was said to have suffered a "medical episode" yesterday after police Tasered him.

But it is not the first time that Taser has been allegedly linked to a death in the UK. Three months ago Andrew Pimlott, 32, suffered horrific injuries and subsequently died after he doused himself in petrol and was then shot with a Taser by police. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is still investigating the case.

In the last few years, a handful of deaths initially blamed on Taser have turned out to be unrelated to the weapon. Dale Burns, 27, from Cumbria, and Philip Hulmes, 53, from near Bolton, died in 2011 after being shot with the so-called "less-lethal weapon" but medical evidence revealed it was not the cause of their deaths.

Once restricted to firearms officers, Taser has been used increasingly in recent years as more frontline officers have access to them. There are now an estimated 14,000 officers armed with Taser in England and Wales, about one in ten.

Police say that it enables them to restrain violent individuals safely and is less harmful than other options such as the baton – nowadays made from steel – or CS spray, which can cause longer-lasting injuries.

Taser is often described as a "50,000-volt weapon". But the electricity that passes into the body is actually around 1,200 volts and the average current a Taser discharges is around 0.0021 amps, less than a Christmas tree bulb.

Nevertheless, the effect is usually a loss of voluntary muscle control, which can result in a person falling to the ground or freezing on the spot.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank and file officers, has been calling on chief constables and the government for more Tasers. Police officers are assaulted every 27 minutes in the UK, and many of them believe an increase in Taser would provide more protection for themselves and the public.

One PC from Greater Manchester Police who had his wrist broken by an attacker told independent policing website PoliceOracle.com last month: "When somebody is determined to cause injury to a police officer, having Taser on the scene is very effective."

In a couple of recent high-profile cases, Taser was used to detain the two men charged with murdering Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, and in February to immobilise a man wielding two knives outside Buckingham Palace.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of Taser coming to the UK police service earlier this year, Simon Chesterton, deputy chief constable of West Mercia Police and lead spokesman on national firearms, said there was "no doubt that over the years it has saved many lives where lethal force may well have been used".

Chesterman conceded that "it is not a risk-free option". But he added: "If you said to me 'Would you rather be battoned, bitten by a police dog or Tasered', I think I would take the Taser any day."

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