Another of this blog’s occasional hobby-horses is the increasing use by police of Tasers (see here, here and here, for instance). It is remarkable how often these “non-lethal” weapons turn out to be pretty damn lethal.
Last week Jordan Begley, a 23 year old with a heart condition, died after being tasered by Greater Manchester Police. As a senior police officer described the incident in which police were called to a domestic dispute between neighbours, “it is unclear what happened but the man suffered a medical episode”.
Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police added delicately: “Our sympathies are with the family and friends of the man who are going through a traumatic time.” I suppose they are! Is it just possible they might not be enduring such a trauma if police officers had not tasered poor Mr Begley?
Of course, officers could not be expected to know that Mr Begley had a heart condition. But nor could they know that he did not. Claims that Mr Begley was brandishing a knife during his argument with a neighbour appear to be disputed by some witnesses but, nevertheless, there were, it is reported, no fewer than eight officers on the scene. Was the use of 50,000 volts of force really necessary?
I imagine an inquiry will report that it was. Fancy that! Just as it seems the repeated tasering of an unarmed 58-year-old Alzheimer’s patient last year was deemed an appropriate use of force. At least Peter Russell did not die and for that we should be grateful.
Even so, we will endure more and more of these stories. They are the inevitable consequence of the paramilitarisation of Britain’s police forces. The use of Tasers in England and Wales increased by 70% in 2011; it has been reported and the Police Federation appear to want every officer in England and Wales to be armed with the weapons. That guarantees they will be used more frequently and in an increase in usage inevitably means they will be used “inappropriately”. And the more often they are used, the more people will die.
Each death will, of course, be highly regrettable. Each casualty will be one of those unfortunate things that just sometimes happens. And while there may be occasional incidents in which the use of a taser is the least-bad option it is blindingly obvious that the use of Tasers will no longer – if it even is now – considered a last resort. Instead they will be used as a matter of routine.
And each time police-electrocution plays a contributory part in someone’s unnecessary death we will be told by senior police officers that constables had no alternative and that, hey, the use of truncheons or dogs is not risk-free either. So that makes everything alright then.
Except it does not. The arming of police officers and their increased reliance on disproportionate force is already a scandal. It will become even more so as the use of Tasers increases still further.
Will government ministers have the courage to resist police calls for more weapons? What do you think? Quite. Poor Mr Begley’s story is a grim one but it won’t be the last of its kind. On the contrary, there will be many more.Tags: british politics, Police, Taser