Majority of Tasers have been used to prevent self harm: Police Ombudsman.

Published Date: 26.01.2012

Police Ombudsman investigators have found that in the first 20 investigations they have completed into the use of Tasers in Northern Ireland, the actions of the police were in line with guidelines for the use of the weapon and in most incidents the officers said they used it to prevent members of the public from harming themselves.

This information is contained in a report published by the Police Ombudsman's Directorate of Research and Performance, entitled 'Analysis of incidents involving the discharge of Taser by the PSNI, 25 January 2008 - 30 September 2011.'

Tasers are weapons which discharge high voltage electric currents with the intention of temporarily incapacitating the person they are aimed at. They were introduced by the PSNI in a pilot project in January 2008 and fully adopted in December of that year.

The Police Ombudsman report records that from the period between January 2008 and September 2011 there were 29 incidents when police officers discharged the weapon at members of the public. It provides an overview of each of these incidents and notes the trends and patterns which have emerged.

The PSNI referred each of these instances to the Police Ombudsman's Office for independent investigation. By the end of September 2011, 20 of these investigations had been completed.

The Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, has said the report is the first such analysis of the use of the weapon in Northern Ireland: "I am aware that the introduction of Tasers to Northern Ireland was and remains a contentious issue. Our role is to independently investigate each of these individual incidents based on the available evidence. This report provides an overview of when, where and how the weapon has been used. Our purpose in publishing this document has been to make available accurate information which can inform public thinking.

All 20 incidents involved the justified use of Taser against people threatening to harm themselves or others. 

"In each of the 20 instances investigated so far, the actions of police were proportionate to the threat being presented. There was a clear risk that a member of the public was going to harm themselves or others.

"While the officer's actions in each of these events were correct, it is important that this Office continues to investigate each use of Taser," he said.

The Police Ombudsman's Office also made a number of recommendations about how police may improve their practices in this area. It suggested, for example, that the officers trained in the use of the weapon be distributed between rural and city areas in such a way as to minimise any delay in them getting to the scene of an incident. This issue is currently being reviewed by police.

Among the trends identified in the report was that in the majority of the 29 incidents when Tasers were used, most were at a domestic residence and most took place in the early hours of the morning. The report is available on the Police Ombudsman website. The site also contains detailed findings from each of the investigations into Taser use.

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