30/11/2004

Tasers 'lethal' and 'prone to abuse,' claims report

More than 70 people in the US and Canada have died after being shocked with ‘taser’ weapons similar to ones currently being considered for use by the PSNI and UK police forces, says a new Amnesty International report released today.

Amnesty International UK is calling for a public statement by the Northern Ireland Office and the NI Policing Board that, if deployed in province, the potentially-lethal devices will be treated as such: only issued to trained firearms officers and used only where necessary to avoid threats to life or serious injury.

Amnesty International said that the devices, which deliver a 50,000-volt electric shock resulting in intense pain, are "inherently open to abuse".

Amnesty International’s NI Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said: “Tasers have been used in the US against pregnant women, unruly schoolchildren and mentally ill people. In some cases, simply walking away from a police officer has led to people getting a 50,000 volt electric shock. Is this a glimpse into the future of policing in Northern Ireland?

“With over 70 deaths following taser use in the US, surely we must have a full enquiry into their effects before the government even considers deployment on Northern Ireland’s streets.

“We want an assurance from the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Policing Board that if deployed here, tasers will only be issued to trained firearms officers and kept locked in the firearms box. Tasers could kill, so they must be treated as lethal weapons.”

The full report includes a review of information on 74 taser-involved deaths, based on a range of sources, including autopsy reports in 21 cases.

While Amnesty International acknowledges that there may be situations where tasers can effectively be used as “stand-off” defensive weapons as an alternative to firearms in order to save lives, in practice tasers are rarely used as an alternative to firearms in the US and most departments place them at a relatively low level on the “force scale”.

The organisation has called for a rigorous, independent and impartial study into the use and effects of tasers.

(SP)

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