A Taser is a less-lethal, single shot self-defence weapon used by trained police officers to temporarily incapacitate a violent or potentially violent person, who poses a danger to themselves or other people nearby.
Hand-held, a Taser is bright yellow in colour and produces an electrical current. Officers issued with Taser should work as part of a ‘unit’, that is, at least two officers.
The normal reaction of a person exposed to Taser is the loss of some voluntary muscle control resulting in the subject falling to the ground or ‘freezing’ on the spot.
A decision to use a Taser against someone is never taken lightly. Before being used other options are considered. Often simply drawing the Taser or placing a red dot to indicate it may be used, is enough to subdue a violent person without having to fire the weapon.
No use of force is risk free but the alternatives to Taser when an individual poses a serious threat include - physical restraint, batons, police dog and, in some rare situations, a firearm. These alternatives can have a much more long-term impact on someone compared with a Taser, the effects of which last only for the duration of the discharge.
The Taser fires two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire. They are propelled by small compressed nitrogen charges. The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent removal once in place.
When the Taser pulse is applied to body, either through clothing or directly on the skin, electrical current flows. This current activates nerves under the skin which then cause muscles to contract. When this happens, the contractions produced by the Taser override a person’s ability to make voluntary movements – the person will not be able to run away or physically attack someone. This muscular incapacitation only continues for as long as the Taser discharge is applied.
The Taser discharges in 5 second cycles; this can be re-engaged but equally can be cut short by turning the safety function on. Recovery should be almost instant.
The rationale for the deployment of Taser is summed-up as:
The use of Taser in the UK is intended to provide police officers with a differentiated use of force option at incidents where there is a danger posed to the public or themselves and officers may need to use force to safely resolve the situation.
When dealing with a violent person, an officer will decide on the most appropriate tactical option to resolve the situation safely that is in line with the law, is proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.
Officers also use the National Decision Model (NDM) when arriving at a decision to use force. The National Decision Model is a framework taught to all officers to enable police to make considered and consistent decisions.
When a Taser is used officers must compile a written report. A report must be written on every occasion, this includes when a Taser has been removed from the holster but not discharged.
Reports are checked by a number of levels of supervision and sent to the Home Office for recording purposes.
The majority of officers who carry a Taser work as part of our response teams across the force area - although response police officers are not routinely equipped with a Taser. Other officers in more specialist support roles, such as the firearms unit, are also trained to carry a Taser.
Any police officer who applies to become Taser trained must undergo a thorough selection process and not every officer who applies will be successful.
To be considered, officers must have an established history and up-to-date training in the use of force, decision making, officer safety training and first aid.
If selected, officers must undergo an intensive three day training course and pass an assessment. Training takes place at our specialist training centre, Black Rock. The centre is also used to train officers from our neighbouring police forces, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
Re-qualification takes place on a yearly basis and is mandatory for trained Taser officers to undertake.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) have published a Taser FAQ sheet - visit the ACPO Questions and Answers on Taser page.
Further information can also be found on the Home Office section of the government website - visit the Police use of Taser statistics, England and Wales, 2014 page.
You can find Avon and Somerset Constabulary's figures relating to use of force in our Publication Scheme.