PSNI Announce Plans To Introduce Electro-Shock Weapons

The Derry based Pat Finucane Centre has expressed its opposition to plans to arm PSNI officers with Tasers. A spokesperson for the PFC said this afternoon,

"We have invited by the Policing Board to make submissions on the possible introduction of the controversial Taser weapon. The closing date for submissions is March 23. In effect the Policing Board is making no serious attempt to consult. Two weeks is entirely inadequate and is probably intended to be inadequate. The Policing Board facilitated a new generation of plastic bullets and the introduction of CS spray; the worry must be that the NIO, PSNI and Policing Board have already made up their minds. It is up to the wider community to convince them otherwise. The first step must be a dramatic extension of the consultation period"

1) see Amnesty briefing below for technical background

2) see also Policing Board letter below re the consultation - the PFC urges subscribers to reply to the Policing Board email provided below to make clear your opposition to Tasers)


As the Policing Board reveal (1) that the Chief Constable of PSNI plans the introduction of electro-shock ‘Tasers’, Amnesty International issued the following briefing detailing its concerns that Tasers are potentially lethal and inherently open to abuse.

Amnesty has studied Taser use in the USA, where the devices are widely used. The organisation found:

Deaths: As of January 2006, Amnesty International reported that there have been more than 150 deaths following the use of Tasers in the US and Canada, since 2001; 75 of these deaths happened in 2005. In at least 15 cases coroners have stated that the Taser played a role in the death.

Abuse: Tasers are widely used in the USA as a standard policing tool rather than as an alternative to using firearms. Amnesty International has documented the use of Tasers against unruly schoolchildren, pregnant women (one of whom lost her baby afterwards) a 71-year old half-blind woman and startlingly, a 9-year-old girl who was already handcuffed.

Amnesty is calling for a full, independent review into the safety and rules for use of Tasers in the UK. Such an inquiry should be carried out by acknowledged medical, scientific, legal and law enforcement experts who are independent of commercial and political interests in promoting such equipment.

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said:

“Amnesty International is not opposed to research into finding less-lethal alternatives to firearms – but before such weapons are deployed here they must have been fully tested. There should be a rigorous, independent review of the effects of Tasers and their safety prior to any wider deployment.

“Many experts believe Taser shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure in people who are under the influence of drugs or suffer underlying health problems such as heart disease - risk factors present in many of the cases we examined in the USA.

"In addition to these concerns, on such an important matter, it is utterly inadequate that the Policing Board should announce a consultation that lasts only two and a half weeks."

Killer Facts

Taser fires 50,000 volts of electricity through the subject, causing collapse, intense pain and loss of control of their bodily functions.

A statistical analysis of 2,050 Taser field applications across the USA, produced for Taser International in November 2002, showed that in 79.6% of cases the suspects were unarmed

The UK Government recently banned electro-shock weapons for export from the UK to other countries, because of concerns that they are used to torture people. Amnesty International has documented the use of electro-shock weapons for torture in many countries.

Disputes re medical evidence/cause of death

There are often a host of factors involved in a Taser-related death – heart problems and drug use, for example – but it is difficult for a police officer making a split-second decision to fire the Taser, to establish whether someone has a heart complaint or has taken a dangerous amount of drugs


In May 2004 a police officer from South Tuscon, Arizona, used a Taser on a nine-year-old girl who was a runaway from a residential home for severely emotionally disturbed children. According to reports, the child was already handcuffed with her hands behind her back and sitting in the back of a police car when the Taser was used as an officer struggled to put her into nylon leg-restraints. The officer is reported as saying that the girl was “screaming, kicking and flailing, and would not listen”.

Willam Teasley, aged 31, died in Anderson County Detention Center, South Carolina in August 2004. Officers reportedly used a Taser to subdue him after he became violent while being booked into the jail and “shortly after he was shocked [he] stopped breathing”. A preliminary autopsy reportedly showed he had died from cardiac arrest. The deputy county coroner, Charlie Boseman, is quoted as saying the Taser contributed to Teasley’s death, combined with a medical history that included heart disease. Teasley reportedly had other health problems, including severe brain damage resulting from an accident in 2003. The preliminary autopsy report was passed to the State Law Enforcement Division investigation team, with a final determination of manner of death pending the results of this inquiry.

James Borden was arrested in November 2003 and died shortly after the administration of the last of six electro-shocks, delivered while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The medical examiner released a statement listing cause of death as a heart attack, drug intoxication and electrical shock

Officers subjected to even a fraction of the normal Taser discharge during training have reported feeling acute pain:

“It is the most profound pain I have ever felt. You get total compliance because they don’t want that pain again.” (firearms consultant, quoted in The Associated Press 12 August 2003)

“They call it the longest five seconds of their life…it’s extreme pain, there’s no question about it. No one would want to get hit by it a second time.” (County Sheriff, quoted in The Kalazazoo Gazette, Michigan, 7 March 2004)

Exports and abuse

Electro-shock devices similar to Tasers are used all over the world for torture, precisely because they can inflict intolerable pain at the touch of a button and leave very few marks. Such devices are banned for export from the UK. Amnesty International is strongly opposed to the export of such devices to countries where they may be used for torture or other human rights abuses.


1. Letter of March 7th 2006 from Policing Board chairperson Prof Desmond Rea to Amnesty International and other consultees: 'CONSULTATION – LIMITED INTRODUCTION OF TASER'. The letter outlines the Chief Constable's intention to issue Tasers to PSNI firearms officers and a request from the Policing Board for comments by March 23rd.


Professor Sir Desmond Rea

Date: 7 March 2006


Dear Consultee


I am writing to seek your views on the Chief Constable’s intention to equip a limited number of officers, specifically specialist firearms officers, with a wider range of less lethal technology than is currently available to them. This will enable these officers to effectively deal with incidents in which conventional firearms are deployed and will give them a further less lethal option other than resorting to the use of firearms. I will explain this further but I would first like to explain the context.

In March 2005, following extensive trials and medical testing, the Home Secretary agreed that Chief Police Officers of all forces in England and Wales could make TASER available to Authorised Firearms Officers as a less lethal alternative for use in situations where a firearms authority has been granted in accordance with criteria laid down in the ACPO Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms. Currently all England and Wales forces deploy TASER operationally. I have attached at Annex A some information on the TASER technology.

I would also refer you to the 4th report of the NIO chaired steering group established as a result of Patten recommendations 69 and 70. This group focuses primarily on the search for less lethal alternatives to baton rounds but it has not limited its scope to public order technologies and has been watching developments in other technologies, including CS Spray and more recently developments in TASER.  I would also refer you to the DOMILL[1] medical reports which have been published on TASER, copies of which are attached to the 4th report.

The Chief Constable has recently advised the Policing Board of his intention to purchase twelve TASER units for use only by the Specialist Firearms officers within PSNI.
The types of circumstances in which TASER could be deployed would be situations at which conventional firearms have been deployed and TASER would provide the Specialist Firearms Officers with another less lethal option for resolving the situation. The typical situation encountered in England, Wales and Scotland to date would involve violent deranged persons who are presenting a threat to themselves and others and often involve bladed weapons such as machetes and samurai swords as well as air guns, BB guns and conventional firearms. TASER is not intended for use in situations of widespread public disorder. Rather the deployment of TASER would allow officers to use no more force than is reasonable in a given set of circumstances and will help ensure that officers act in a way which is compliant with the requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The only officers trained in the deployment of TASER will be the Specialist Firearms Officers who have been rigorously selected and trained in their role as firearms officers. The training delivered to these officers will be to the ACPO standard and reclassification in the weapon will be to National Standards. The use of TASER by PSNI, because it is designated as a firearm, will be in accordance with ACPO policy, guidance and standards. Aside from the officers who will be trained to use TASER, others throughout and without the service will receive training on its effects. This will include Incident Commanders, Professional Standards officers, Scene of Crime Examiners, Custody Officers, Patrol Officers, and Control room staff within PSNI as well as Medical Officers, local A & E staff and Ambulance Service staff. The ACPO guidance on the use of TASER includes advice around aftercare and post-incident procedures and this will be followed.

The audit and accountability arrangements that will be put in place will include authorisation to carry by a supervisory officer and carriage will be in accordance with ACPO Standards. The TASER has a built in dataport which records information on the previous 2000 uses of the TASER including date, time, battery life and duration on an encrypted data file. This information will be regularly downloaded to a computer via a USB connection. The TASER also discharges, when fired, up to 40 small confetti-like discs which contain the serial number of the cartridge used. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will be requested to investigate every use of TASER and her investigators will be trained in how to examine these audit processes. Article 4 (Use of Force) of the PSNI Code of Ethics will continue to apply to all circumstances where the use of force is under consideration.

The Board will be considering the Chief Constable’s intentions with regard to TASER at its Board meeting on 28 March. In order to inform that debate we would very much like to receive your written comments on the introduction of TASER to PSNI within the context I have detailed above.

All comments should be submitted in writing to the address below or preferably by email to by 23 March 2006.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Desmond Rea



[1] DSAC Sub-Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons [DSAC is the Defence Scientific Advisory Council]


PFC note - the following technical data should be treated with a degree of caution - it was provided by the Policing Board


Ref No: 41372


What is a TASER?
A TASER is an electrical weapon which aims to incapacitate rather than lethally injure. It resembles a pistol but administers an electrical current that temporarily incapacitates an individual. It delivers an electrical current that interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system.

How does it work?
The X26 advanced TASER is laser-sighted and uses cartridges attached to the end of the device. The cartridges project a pair of barbs, which attach to the skin or clothing and deliver an electrical charge. The output of the device is 6 watts which delivers a charge of 50,000 volts. The TASER has a maximum range of around 21 feet.
The TASER also has a stun mode, where it can be operated without firing the barbs.

What does it do to someone?
The charge causes a loss of some voluntary muscle control, resulting in the subject falling to the ground or "freezing" on the spot.

What happens afterwards?
The effects are instantaneous and only last for as long as the charge is applied.

Where else is the TASER used?
It is used by all police forces in England and Wales and by 6 of the 8 Scottish police forces, with the other two making plans for use. It is also widely used in the USA and Canada and has been for more than 20 years. Medical testing suggests that it is unlikely that operational deaths would occur from use of TASER. The risk of life-threatening or serious injuries from the M26 TASER is very low. The cardiac risk from the X26 is less than the already low risk from the M26.

Has it been tested in Britain?
TASER technology has been subject to rigorous assessment and testing by the Police Scientific development Branch to determine how well it meets the operational requirements. Further details of this are set out in the 4th report of the Steering Group.

Has it been medically assessed?
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory have undertaken a programme of medical assessment. An independent body called the Defence Scientific Advisory Council’s Sub-Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal technologies has considered the results of both these assessments. Further details of this are set out in the 4th report of the Steering Group.

How much will it cost?
Each TASER costs around £750 (12 will therefore cost approximately £9000).

How effective is it?
It is very effective while the charge is being applied and the electrical charge can be repeated if needed. However, they are not 100 per cent effective for many reasons.

Will police officers still need to use conventional firearms?
TASER is not a replacement for conventional weapons but is an option that should be considered amongst others, to provide the most appropriate response in any given situation.