Civil rights group slams introduction of tasers on Scottish transport

Campaign group asks Scottish government to be proactive in ensuring use of tasers is monitored 

CIVIL RIGHTS group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (Sacc), has expressed disappointment in the decision to allow tasers to be carried and used on all Scottish transport by the British Transport Police (BTP)

The group was responding to the news that officers who police Scotland's railways are to be armed with tasers in a move designed, according to the force, to "increase security on the network".

Sacc dismissed concerns about a "mounting terrorism threat", instead suggesting that despite historically low usage and abuse of the weapons, their introduction could spark an upward trend in use against targeted communities, particularly racial minorities. 

"Tasers are often presented as a less deadly alternative to firearms. The evidence from England and Wales suggests, on the contrary, that tasers lower the threshold at which potentially deadly force is threatened or used by police." Richard Haley

Speaking to CommonSpace Richard Haley, chair of Sacc said: "The announcement that tasers are to be carried by British Transport Police in Scotland comes less than 3 weeks after footballer Dalian Atkinson died after being tasered in Shropshire. That points to a disturbing reluctance by police to learn lessons.

"Tasers are often presented as a less deadly alternative to firearms. The evidence from England and Wales suggests, on the contrary, that tasers lower the threshold at which potentially deadly force is threatened or used by police. 

"Separate data obtained from the Metropolitan Police by StopWatch shows that across London black people are 4.3 times more likely than white people to be targeted by tasers. The same data shows that, over a period of less than 2 years, tasers were deployed 185 times and discharged 10 times against children, including once against a 13 year old.

"Transport Police say the decision to carry tasers in Scotland 'is not based on specific intelligence of any criminal behaviour or imminent threat'. So why do they need to act in such haste, while a criminal investigation into the officers involved in the tasering of Dalian Atkinson is still underway?   

"The statistics from England and Wales suggest that we are more likely to be threatened by a police taser than to be saved from death by a taser-equiped police officer. For those of us who are black, the odds are worse. The police need to think again."

Figures from 2015 show that 18 people had been tasered in the past four years in Scotland.

He also commented about the role the Scottish Government has to play in making sure the use of tasers does not reach the figures similar to those in England and Wales.

Haley continued: "The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Government a role in the appointment of people to BTP bodies. In anticipation of further devolution of powers over BTP, the Scottish Government must be pro-active in insisting on comprehensive monitoring of the use of tasers by BTP. 

"It's very disappointing that Police Scotland were consulted over the BTP decision, but the Scottish Government appear not to have been consulted."

Haley's comments came as it was announced (7 September) that Police Scotland and BTP are set to be merged by the Scottish Government with the introduction of its Railway Policing Bill.

The bill will seek to deal with the troubled finances of the national police force by placing all funding for BTP operations in Scotland under the remit of Police Scotland.

Currently 459 officers are authorised by Police Scotland to use tasers and 273 officers routinely carry them.

According to police figures, tasers were used 10,329 times and discharged 1921 times in England and Wales in the 12 months from 1 January to 31 December 2015, compared with just seven firearms discharges in the 12 months from 31 March 2015 to 21 March 2016.

Figures from 2015 show that 18 people had been tasered in the past four years in Scotland with six of them being under the age of 18 and from 2012 to 2015 police officers drew their tasers 80 times.

From 2014 to 2015, the tasers which deliver a shock of up to 50,000 volts were used on five individuals who were deemed mentally ill.

Currently 459 officers are authorised by Police Scotland to use tasers and 273 officers of their officers routinely carry them.

Police in Scotland first used tasers in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire on a 39 year old man in 2005. 

Picture courtesy of Christopher Paul

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