TWO-THIRDS of all people Tasered by the police in England and Wales between 2010 and 2014 were identified as mentally ill.
The figures were made available by the Home Office following a Freedom of Information Act request by www.thejusticegap.com. The data reveals that in 45% of incidents where police used Tasers – this includes where the weapons were drawn and aimed – the subject was identified by officers as being mentally ill; and in instances where the police actually discharged the stun guns, 67% of subjects were identified as mentally ill.
Norman Lamb MP, the Liberal Democrat health spokesperson who launched the cross-party Equality for Mental Health campaign last month, described the numbers as ‘clearly very worrying’. He said that it is ‘crucial that police forces have proper guidance and training in place to ensure officers are able to act in a safe manner when working with someone with mental ill health’.
Mike Penning MP, minister for policing told www.thejusticegap.com, that ‘sensitive powers’, such as Tasering, required ‘proper accountability and transparency’ and noted that the government is reviewing options for publishing figures on Taser use.
The numbers also show that police in England & Wales’ use of Tasers increased over the period. In 2010 there were 6,238 recorded Taser incidents. By 2014 that figure had risen to 9,196, an increase of nearly 50%. There was a corresponding increase in the number of Taser incidents involving mentally ill people, increasing from 2,737 in 2010 to 4,200 in 2014.
The numbers reveal significant variation between police forces. Some police forces Tasered comparatively few mentally ill people. For example, Essex Police had the fewest Tasering incidents per capita involving mentally ill people of the 10 largest police forces in England & Wales.
Essex Police covers a population of 1.7 million people. In 2014, the force recorded 91 Taser incidents involving mentally ill people. Tasers were fired in 17 of these incidents. The controversial ‘drive stun’ mode was not used. Drive stun mode is where the Taser is pressed against the subject with the intention of causing pain rather than incapacitation.
By contrast, West Midlands Police has the worst record for Tasering mentally ill people of any police force in England & Wales. Per capita, West Midlands Police Tasers approximately eight times as many mentally ill people as Essex police. West Midlands Police, which covers a population of 2.8 million, is the second largest police force in the UK after the Metropolitan Police.
Per capita, West Midlands Police Tasers nearly three times as many mentally ill people as the Metropolitan Police.