Increase in use of Tasers on Children
Figures on the use of Tasers published by the BBC in February, show they have been used 431 times against children and young people in England and Wales in 2013 - including being fired 37 times.
Tasers inflict intolerable pain. They have been known to deliver a shock up to 450 times stronger than the current in a household electric socket. A victim of a Taser said it was “like someone reached into my body to rip my muscles apart with a fork.”
The BBC figures are in line with CRAE’s own research. Twenty police forces across the country responded to our Freedom of Information research for our 2014 State of Children’s Rights in England report. The responses revealed that in 2013 Tasers had been used on 309 children with 29% of those aged between 13 and 15 years old. In 8% of cases the weapons were fired or the “drive stun” technique was used.
Statistics we obtained through a Freedom of Information request last year also show that the use of Tasers on children and young people in London by the Metropolitan Police rose almost six-fold over four years. In 2008 there were only nine instances but that rose to 53 in 2012.
There is limited research into the impact of using Tasers on children but the evidence that is available indicates that children are at greater risk of injury to major organs, brain and eyes.
Even when Tasers are not actually fired or used in “drive stun” mode (which causes pain but not incapacity), the threat of a police officer drawing a weapon is likely to be extremely disturbing for children and young people.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern that Taser use against children poses a serious risk of harm - both physical and psychological.
The protection against harm and unlawful violence set out in human rights law means officers should only use Taser on children when it is absolutely necessary and proportionate: for example when there is a real and immediate risk to life (of the child, an officer or another person). The safeguards in human rights law also mean officers must consider other, less dangerous options before resorting to the use of Taser and, crucially, must be able to justify why these options were discounted.
Analysing the figures from the BBC alongside government statistics for 2009 shows a trebling of the use of Tasers on children in England. This raises legitimate questions about whether these weapons are only being used by police when absolutely necessary or if their use is becoming more routine.
Last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published a report looking at Taser use between 2004 and 2013, raising concerns about the use of Tasers on people who are particularly vulnerable, including young children.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live Following the release of the BBC Figures, David Blunkett, who first authorized the use of Tasers when he was Home Secretary raised concern about the use of tasers on children: “For a youngster – 11 years old- a Taser is not in my view an appropriate way of dealing with a situation – which clearly must have been out of hand, but where we need to train people to use more traditional alternatives.”
The police say Tasers are an important tool in helping to protect both the public and police officers, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of children’s safety and human rights.
Our research suggests police can do their job effectively without using Tasers on children: Freedom of Information figures we obtained revealed that in nine London boroughs, police did not use Tasers on children at all, and 40% of the incidents in which Tasers were used on children occurred in just four boroughs.
We think a clear statement of policy, backed up by training and regulation based on children's human rights could have a big impact on practice and help reduce and eliminate the use of Tasers on children.
Read the BBC article.
Read CRAE’s Trust for London Funded research on the use of Tasers on children in London.