South Wales Police is to double its number of Taser-trained officers in the next year following a wide-ranging review by Chief Constable Matt Jukes.
The review, initiated in spring 2018, looked into the best ways for police officers to protect the public and themselves in the face of challenges including assaults on officers, as well as the national rise in knife crime and “County Lines”.
As a result of the review, South Wales Police will increase its proportion of Taser-trained officers from 10% of all officers to 20% in the next 12 months – meaning that an additional 281 officers will be trained. A similar increase is planned for the following year. The decision has been reviewed and strongly endorsed by the Police and Crime Commissioner, Rt Hon Alun Michael.
The increase will kick in from the start of 2019, with detailed plans for the rollout and intensive training for the officers who will carry the device.
South Wales Police say that in most cases where Taser use is authorised, it is not deployed. Where it is deployed, there are a number of stages of deployment prior to discharge, as follows. These made up approximately 93% of the force’s Taser deployments in 2017/18.
Commenting on the decision, Mr Michael said: “I am satisfied that the Chief Constable’s decision is in the public interest in every way. The use of a Taser is often misunderstood and misrepresented so it’s important to stress that – properly used – it is a means of preventing injury, not of causing injury.
“Tasers are frequently used to prevent violence against police officers but also against members of the public and individuals who need to be restrained. I have looked specifically at the way in which Tasers are used by South Wales Police as part of my role in holding the Chief Constable to account for operational policing. As a result, I am very confident that the use of Taser by our officers is proportionate and frequently prevents harm.
“Very often, the Taser isn’t even used because its very presence has been enough to deter an offender. In the vast majority of cases where Taser is carried, it is not deployed – and, even when it is deployed, prevention of violence comes from measures short of discharge such as projecting a laser’s red dot on to the suspect [see chart below].
“To ensure that Tasers are not misused their deployment is carefully controlled, and enormous care is taken when training officers who carry Taser to ensure that they understand their responsibilities. Its use is also scrutinised closely by senior officers, by the Home Office and by other external bodies to ensure that Tasers are only used to prevent harm to victims of crime, the wider public, police officers and offenders themselves.”
Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan said: “We are determined to ensure our officers are properly equipped to be able to best protect themselves, their colleagues and, importantly, the public.
“The Chief Constable’s decision is based on evidence that additional police officers carrying Taser will act as an added deterrence to violence. Discharging a Taser will temporarily incapacitate suspects posing a danger to the public or to themselves, such as when they are armed with a weapon.
“The work carried out by police officers is exceptional, and they constantly demonstrate their commitment to keeping the communities of South Wales safe. On average, South Wales Police officers are subjected to around nine assaults each week, which sadly include kicking, biting, punching and spitting.
“In addition, we are aware of growing evidence that gangs linked to drugs trafficking and County Lines activity are increasingly likely to be carrying weapons. We intend to be ready should these trends have an increasing impact in our area, with Taser being particularly adept at neutralising the threat from someone armed with a knife. Extra Taser provision will help mitigate these threats and allow for more effective policing, with its use frequently preventing harm to the police, the public and indeed offenders.”
South Wales Police does not anticipate there being a significant increase in the amount of times Taser is discharged following this increase – with only a tiny proportion of instances where Taser is carried currently resulting in the device actually being discharged. In the vast majority of cases – about 90% – an officer who has been authorised to carry Taser will not deploy or use the device.
Between autumn 2007 and spring 2018, Taser was authorised on more than 13,000 occasions. In the 2017/18 year, Taser was deployed in 227 cases, and, of those, discharged in only 16 instances.
The impact of this increase in Taser provision will be closely monitored following its introduction to ensure it has the desired effects.
Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan added: “The decision to double the number of Taser-trained officers has been taken after a detailed study of the benefits the equipment will bring to how we police South Wales. Enormous care is taken over our use of Tasers, both in terms of training officers who are enabled to use them and in terms of the restrictions on the circumstances in which they can be used.
“There is a moral imperative for us to do whatever we have at our disposal to ensure the safety of the public, and that is the basis on which the decision has been made to increase our number of Taser-trained officers.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael added: “I will continue to monitor Taser use by South Wales Police – with particular emphasis on the results of this increased availability – to make certain that any and every use of Taser in South Wales is justifiable, proportionate, lawful, and necessary.”