Tasers drawn by Northamptonshire Police more than 500 times in a year

Home Office data shows that Northamptonshire Police drew Tasers 555 times in the year to March 2020

Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 4:25 pm
Home Office data shows that Northamptonshire Police drew Tasers 555 times in the year to March 2020

Police in Northamptonshire used Tasers more than 500 times in a year – and disproportionately against black people, figures suggest.

In a recent report, the Independent Office for Police Conduct raised serious concerns around the unnecessary or unsafe use of the devices by forces across England and Wales, particularly against non-white or vulnerable people and children.

It highlighted disproportionate use of Tasers against black people, a matter currently the subject of an extensive review spearheaded by the National Police Chiefs' Council and the College of Policing.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Home Office data shows that Northamptonshire Police drew Tasers 555 times in the year to March 2020, though officers only discharged the electric shock weapons on 25 occasions.

The figures show that where the subject's ethnicity was recorded, 447 incidents of Taser use involved white people, compared to 73 involving black people.

It meant black people were involved in 13% of all Taser incidents, despite representing 2.2% of the population, according to the latest population estimates at police force level.

The figures count the number of times officers involved in an incident used their Taser rather than the number of separate incidents.

Across England and Wales, black people were eight times more likely to be subject to use of Taser than white people in 2019-20, according to the IOPC report.

Chief Constable Lucy D'Orsi, the NPCC's lead for less lethal weapons, said the work to understand and tackle racial disproportionalities in Taser use would remain a policing priority.

She added: "We do not yet understand the reason for this and that’s why, for over a year and a half, we have been working with national independent advisors and the College of Policing to independently review this disproportionality."

She added: "Policing is not easy and in many violent situations I believe Taser is a viable less lethal option for officers between using a baton and the lethal force of a gun.

"Officers are well trained to use the reasonable force given to them in law to confront the violence or threat of violence they are faced with when they protect the public and themselves."

The IOPC report warned that police risked losing public confidence if concerns around Taser use were not addressed through improvements to guidance, training and scrutiny.

IOPC director Michael Lockwood said forces must be able to justify the circumstances in which Tasers are deployed.

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, of human rights campaign group Amnesty International, said: “The police have a disturbing track record of disproportionately using Tasers against black people and those in mental distress.

“In some circumstances, Tasers can be effective if used by well-trained officers to prevent loss of life or serious injury, but they’re open to misuse and over-use."

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our police officers must be equipped with the resources, tools and powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe – including Taser.

“Officers in England and Wales pass one of the most comprehensive training programmes in the world before being authorised with a Taser.

"In 86% of cases where a Taser is drawn, it is not discharged, demonstrating its impact as a powerful deterrent that deescalates dangerous situations.”

A Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman, said: “As these figures show, whilst Taser was drawn on 555 occasions, only 25 of those resulted in a discharge. Often, red dotting a suspect is enough to ensure compliance.

“Northamptonshire Police was one of the first forces in this country to issue all of our frontline officers with a Taser. This comes with the caveat that all officers who opt to carry one must have 12 months service and pass a rigorous training programme beforehand.

“Whilst no police officer ever wants to use force, equally we do not want them to ever be in a situation where they feel they are in a position of disadvantage and getting seriously hurt is a real possibility.

“However, with this power comes responsibility and every single use of Taser, whether there is a discharge or not, is scrutinised, with the officer in question needing to be able to provide a clear rationale as to why their Taser was used during any incident.

“All incidents where Taser is used are also subject to independent scrutiny and assessment by lay members of the public to ensure transparency and legitimacy of its use.

“Providing police officers with the best equipment and kit so they can effectively protect the public is imperative to us. And just as important is doing everything we can to ensure they go home safely to their families every night.”