‘Grave concerns’ have been expressed over the wider deployment of Taser electro-shock weapons to police officers in ten forces across the UK which are taking part in a pilot 12-month trial which began on Saturday, September 1st.
Up until now, Taser electro-shock weapons have only been used by specialist firearms officers.
From last Saturday, other police units have been armed with Tasers and will be able to use the weapons in a wider set of circumstances.
The stun guns are potentially lethal electrical weapons.
The pistol shaped weapon delivers 50,000 volts of electricity into a person’s body. The result is excruciatingly painful, causing a person to fall to the ground and lose control of their bodily functions.
Amnesty International’s Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague said: ‘We’re worried that this could be the start of a slippery slope – towards further arming of the police, or towards a situation like that in the US where Tasers have been widely misused and people have died.’
Since 2001 Amnesty International has found that more than 220 people have died after being shot with Tasers in the US.
In many of these cases, the coroner listed the use of the Taser as contributory factor or indeed a direct link to the death.
In October last year, 47-year-old Brian Loan died several days after being shot by a Taser by police in County Durham.
A coroner later recorded a verdict of death by natural causes, attributing his death to heart disease.
His sister, Barbara Hodgson, refused to accept the Taser was not to blame for his death.
She told a local paper: ‘The evidence might not exist at the minute, but I am sure we will be proved right as more cases come to light.’
Former Scotland Yard commander John O’Connor told the BBC he believed extending the number of officers using Tasers was dangerous.
He said that in some people the electric shock could be too much and cause their death.
He warned that by giving out Taser guns ‘indiscriminately to untrained officers’ there was a risk they would be used far too indiscriminately.
More than 3,000 Tasers have been issued to police since 2003.
Amnesty says the Home Office has failed to demonstrate how the use of Tasers will be consistent with its obligations under international human rights guidelines and what policies and procedures are in place to prevent misuse of electro-shock weapons.