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.
What is Taser and why do police use it?
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.
How do Tasers work?
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 the 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.
How do officers make a decision to use Taser?
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.
Common Taser related terms
- Drawn – drawing of the Taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action to be a use of force
- Arced – this is achieved when the trained officer squeezes the trigger without the cartridge attached and the electric current flows between the two contacts at the end of the Taser. An audible and visual display of electricity crackling across the two contacts can be seen and heard
- Aimed – deliberate aiming of the Taser at a targeted person
- Red dot – the Taser has a laser sighting system which allows a trained officer to mark the targeted person with a red dot. This lets the officer know they are on target and also lets the individual know that they have been targeted
- Fired – the Taser is fired with a live cartridge installed. When the trigger is pulled, the probes are fired towards the targeted person with the intention of completing an electrical circuit and delivering an incapacitating effect
- Drive stun – the Taser is held against the targeted person’s body and the trigger is pulled with no probes being fired. Contact with the person completes the electrical circuit which causes pain but does not deliver an incapacitating effect
- Angled-drive stun – the trained officer fires the weapon with a live cartridge installed. One or both probes may attach. The officer then holds the Taser against the person’s body in a different area to the probe(s), in order to complete the electrical circuit and deliver an incapacitating effect
Which officers carry a Taser in Avon and Somerset
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.
Where can I find more information?
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) have published a Taser FAQ sheet.
You can find further information on the police use of Tasers in England and Wales on the Home Office’s website.
To view the latest our Taser statistics read our quarterly Use of Force statistics.