Friday, 17 February 2012

TASER GUNS--The Jury still out?

 The issue of the States Police having access to Taser Guns is back in the public domain. Below are two questions which were lodged by Deputy Gerard Baudains with answers given at the States Sitting on 11th September 2007. I am personally pleased that the St Clement's electorate has seen fit to re-elect Gerard and one wonders why they did not support him in 2008.

As readers will see, the wily Gerard softened the Minister up with a written question and then with the aid of other Members got him against ropes before the Bailiff rang the bell. The Written and Oral answers give an insight to the Police armoury and new Minister Le Marquand should take note of the foot stamping response to Ben Shenton's statement and question  (This is Jersey. Do we really need TASER guns? Is it just another toy?)

I don't think any one was convinced with the answer given by the former Deputy of St John and Assistant Minister Andrew Lewis when he attempted to justify the need for Taser Guns and Members were never told why there were export problems or how much the Taser Gun and officer training would cost.

Having a police background I do understand the danger that some times is just around the corner, however Jersey is a low crime area and I was particularly saddened that in attempting to justify theTaser Gun the Minister stated that it "gives better officer safety as they can be discharged at up to a distance of 21 feet. The CS spray has an operational effectiveness of approximately 12 feet and with the ASP baton the officer needs to be within arms reach. The Launcher baton gun has a documented operational effectiveness of 20 metres (over 60 feet in old money) however in instances where it has been discharged and the subject has been wearing heavy clothing or under the influence of drink or drugs or indeed both it has provided no more than a distraction."

One may ask if the gun is only a distraction why is it needed? Every step away from a suspect is a step away from the traditional policing and a step away from consensus policing. I can recall officer safety being the justification for handcuffs being issued to officers which would only be used as a last resort, unfortunately handcuffs are often the first resort and another step away from the public and another own goal. I understand that even Honorary Police Officers are carrying handcuffs.

As a member of the Jersey Human Rights Group I am naturally interested re possible Convention violations. I don't disagree with Amnesty International's Comments however it should be noted that Jersey unlike other jurisdictions does not have a Police Authority. Only at the last Sitting our Home Affairs Minister was unable to answer a question relating to the alleged police raid at the home of the Honorary German Consul, on the grounds that it was an operational matter. If that is the case who will be accountable should something untoward occur by the misuse of a Taser Gun?

There are still many questions that need to be asked and I hope it will not be left to the usual suspects to ask them. If States consent is required for the States Police to import and use Taser Guns, Members should take the opportunity of ensuring that there are strict written guidelines in place and there is a direct line of accountabilty.

Written Question


With the stated aim of the States of Jersey Police to obtain TASER stun guns (Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle), will the Minister – 
(a) give the reasons behind the desire to have such devices in Jersey, and advise whether she is aware of the doubt over their effectiveness, the potential for abuse and the alleged number of deaths attributed to such devices? 
(b) explain what, if any, consideration has been given to the effect that the deployment of such guns may have on police relations with the public? 
(a)    Jersey strives to comply with obligations under Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights: the right to respect for life. This additional tool provides for another less lethal option which can be deployed when encountering people who are a physical danger to themselves, officers or members of the general public, without having to deploy full lethal force.
The technology was first used in the mid seventies in the USA, and Electronic Control Devices (ECDs) were given project status by the U.K. Home Office in 2003, and then used on the streets in the U.K. from 2004. They are now in widespread use in the U.K., although only to be used by trained firearms officers in Jersey. 
At present the States of Jersey Police have a full firearms capability. They have at their disposal a number of conventional firearms including semi-automatic pistols, MP5 carbines, Accuracy International rifles both 7.62 and .243 calibre and Remington 870 pump action shotguns used for the delivery of specialist munitions and animal destruction.
     The police use a Conflict Management Model (CMM). Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) have to take in to consideration a range of less lethal options before resorting to lethal force. (That is to say they must have been tried and failed or in the circumstances unlikely to succeed.) 
The less lethal options are –
Officer’s Presence.
Communication Skills   Talking to subject
Primary Control Skills   Physical restraint i.e. handcuffs
Secondary Control Skills  C.S Spray
Defensive and Offensive Skills  Open handed techniques; Asp Baton strikes; dog;
Launcher (Baton Gun)  
Deadly Force.     Firearms 
Within these options an ECD (of which the TASER is a brand name of one particular model) would be introduced as a secondary Control skill level. The effects of ECD are confined purely to the delivery of the voltage. There are no post traumatic injuries associated with ECD, unlike CS spray, ASP baton and Launcher baton gun strikes. 
In addition ECDs provide for better officer safety as they can be discharged at up to a distance of 21 feet. The CS spray has an operational effectiveness of approximately 12 feet and with the ASP baton the officer needs to be within arms reach. The Launcher baton gun has a documented operational effectiveness of 20 meters however in instances where it has been discharged and the subject has been wearing heavy clothing or under the influence of drink or drugs or indeed both it has provided no more than a distraction. 
At present if the subject is in a building then the Launcher baton gun cannot be deployed because of the ricochet dangers and so the available less lethal options are reduced. In addition the target area of the body at which the Launcher baton gun can be aimed is restricted to the belt buckle, should the subject be seated behind a desk or intentionally or otherwise obscure their abdomen then the launcher baton gun cannot be used. There are no such restrictions with ECDs. 
The ECD relies on the fact that it induces Electro-Muscular Disruption which causes loss of some voluntary muscle control resulting in the subject falling to the ground or ‘freezing’ on the spot, incapacitating the subject for as long as the ECD (electrical charge) is being activated. It is not intended, nor is it likely to render the subject into a state of unconsciousness and the effects are likely to be instantaneous. 
The States of Jersey Police have adopted the Home Office Codes of Practice on the Police use of Firearms as ‘Good Practice’ and all of the training and operational deployments of firearms are conducted in accordance with the ACPO Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms and the National Firearms Curriculum. There is no room for abuse in any of the tactics that described in any of these documents. The proposal locally is that only trained and recognised AFOs are deployed with ECDs being amongst a number of options, in line with the standard firearms authority (authorised at ACPO level) – officers on routine patrol will not be carrying ECD equipment. 
In a press release on 31st August 2007 Amnesty International are quoted as saying
Amnesty International believes that TASERs (ECDs) can only be used if:
  • TASERs (ECDs) are only used as an alternative to lethal force where situation presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to officers or others
  • Officers carrying TASERs (ECDs) are trained to firearms standards on an ongoing basis
  • Roll-out is highly restricted and then only to specially trained officers
  • The Home Office has demonstrated how the use of TASER 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.
  •  Deployment in Jersey will be in compliance with all these points. 
There are no known deaths that can be attributed directly to the use of ECD. There may however be some deaths which have occurred as a result of poor after care i.e. positional asphyxia. SoJP officers are trained in First Aid and AFOs will be trained in the specialist aftercare required, as will Custody Staff. During the development of a firearms incident it is a standard option to deploy paramedics to the scene, this would include the use of ECD. 
The electronic charge of the ECD is well within the safety limits to have any effect on the heart. It has been deemed as totally safe, for example, with persons who have an electronic pacemaker fitted.
“The risk of life threatening or serious injuries from the M26 advanced TASER appears to be very low.” DOMILL report August 2004. 
“The risk of a life-threatening event arising from the direct interaction of the currents of the X26 TASER with the heart, is less than the already low risk of such an event from the M26 Advanced TASER.” PSDB report March 2005. (X26 TASER is the second Model currently in use in the U.K., M26 Advanced was actually the first). 
(c)    Fatal shootings involving police officers attract a huge amount of public and media attention. They are expensive in terms of human loss and injury, trauma, public enquiries, independent investigations. The impact on a small community such as Jersey would be significant. Deployment of ECD equipment is designed to reduce the possibility of fatal police shootings and preserve officer safety as well as maximise the protection afforded to the general public. It should be re-assuring to the general public that the Police have access to such equipment.
The general public will also be re-assured that Jersey’s compliance with the Convention on Human Rights will be enhanced as a result.
Oral Question

3.12 Deputy G.C.L. Baudains of the Minister for Home Affairs regarding the deployment of TASER guns:

With regard to the deployment of TASER guns, would the Minister advise Members what restrictions, if any, will apply, such as senior officer authorisation, or will they be carried as a matter of course? What training, if any, is being given to reduce the potential risk of abuse or deaths? 

Senator W. Kinnard (The Minister for Home Affairs):

May I, with your permission, ask that the Deputy of St. John answer the question, because he deals with all matters relating to firearms? 
The Deputy Bailiff:
Yes, he may answer for the Minister.
 The Deputy of St. John (Assistant Minister for Home Affairs):
TASER is the brand name for an electronically controlled device (ECD) which is in the process of being acquired by the States of Jersey Police, subject to U.K. export controls being negotiated. It is intended that this equipment will form part of the armoury of available weapons to the Police Firearms Unit, hence all the usual strict rules of firearms deployment will be implemented. Authorisation of deployment can only be made by the Chief Officer, or, in his absence, a designated senior officer of ATPO (Anti Terrorism and Public Order) rank. Such instructions can only be issued to authorised firearms officers who attended and passed a nationally accredited firearms authorisation course. Electronic control device training will form a standard part of an authorised firearms officer’s training. ECD devices will not be routinely carried by patrolling officers, like the CS spray and the ASP expandable baton. ECD will be deployed as an alternative to the lethal force option, when the need for such reasonable and minimum force is identified, as required to confront someone representing a significant physical danger to themselves, officers, or members of the general public. I might like to add to that, that States of Jersey police officers are trained in first aid, and firearms officers will be trained in the specialist aftercare required, as will custody staff. During the development of a firearms incident it is standard practice to deploy paramedics to the scene and this would, of course, include the ECD if it is deployed. 

3.12.1 Deputy G.C.L. Baudains:

I am grateful for the Assistant Minister’s contribution. My concern on this issue obviously is one of public safety, because TASER guns are believed to be dangerous. I believe over 250 deaths have been attributed to their use, and some police departments are considering withdrawing them as a result. In the Minister’s written question on the same subject, she stated that these weapons are well within the safety limits to have any effect on the heart, even those with pacemakers. I wonder if the Assistant Minister, could advise who supplied this information, so that we may verify its accuracy, because I do find it somewhat curious, given that even airport security measures are deemed to be possibly dangerous to such people. TASER guns do, in fact, administer many thousands of volts and do so for the entire period that the officer keeps it activated.
 The Deputy of St. John:
I will check as to where that information has come from, but I understand that to be the case. In answer to his question about the numbers of deaths attributed to this weapon in the US, the information we have suggests that those deaths are not solely attributed to the use of TASER guns. There are other extenuating circumstances and reasons as to why those deaths may have occurred. In the U.K. where they have been deployed now for some three years there have been no reported incidents of death as a result of using it, but I can assure the member and the House that should the more lethal option have been adopted, i.e. conventional firearms, there would be considerably more deaths, and, indeed, that has certainly been the case in the US. This is a lot less lethal option and can be deployed in a much, much safer manner.
 3.12.2 Deputy S.C. Ferguson:
How much is all this going to cost? 
The Deputy of St. John:
I do not have the figures to hand but if the Deputy will give me a bit of time this morning I am very happy to advise her in the House later on today. 

3.12.3 Senator B.E. Shenton:

This is Jersey. Do we really need TASER guns? [Approbation] Is it just another toy?
The Deputy of St. John:
Yes, I believe that we do, because we have had a number of firearms incidents last year alone. Some 17 times the unit was called upon. On at least two of those occasions the perpetrator could have very easily been, and in fact very nearly was, shot. Now, firearms officers are trained to shoot the middle part of the body between the waist and the neck, because that is the largest area of the body. Clearly that is where your vital organs are. In other words, it is highly likely that if somebody was challenged with a conventional weapon they would be killed or seriously injured. With TASER that is simply not the case. They can be apprehended in a far more controlled manner and in most cases that would be non-fatal. 

3.12.4 Connétable T.J. du Feu of St. Peter:

Has the Assistant Minister received any legal advice as to the legality of this type of policing taking place in Jersey, because I believe that there is some question mark on the legality of this particular system being adopted in the Island? If he has received any, where from and from whom? 
The Deputy of St. John:
The question is, in fact, if we do not deploy it, we will not be compliant in terms of human rights, i.e. Article 2, the right to life, is somewhat compromised if you deploy conventional firearms in such an incident. Therefore, with TASER that right to life is acknowledged. In other words, we would not be complying with that should we not use such equipment, as indeed other forces have, including Guernsey.
 3.12.5 Deputy S.C. Ferguson:
Does the Deputy not think that perhaps there is a responsibility towards other people’s lives when you are brandishing a gun, with regard to the perpetrator?
The Deputy of St. John:
Well, yes, very much so, Sir. That is why a firearms unit will be called to defuse a situation and indeed end the situation. So I do not quite know what the Deputy is getting at. But quite clearly if somebody is brandishing a weapon the public are at risk and it is the police’s job to ensure that that situation is brought to a swift conclusion. 

3.12.6  Deputy G.C.L. Baudains:

Yes, given the concern that there is about the possibility of death or even injury to people who may have heart conditions - and I am not sure how a police officer can determine if the object in his sights has or has not a heart condition - and given the fact, that we are told by the Minister that the weapon is virtually useless against somebody on drink or drugs, or wearing thick clothing, what is the point of having this weapon in Jersey? 
The Deputy of St. John:
I do not quite know where the Deputy gets the idea that it cannot be used when somebody is under the influence of drink or drugs. Indeed, that is quite often the case, when a weapon ends up being used in this type of situation by the perpetrator. The issue of what is the person wearing - clearly, if they are wearing protective clothing, armour protective clothing, even conventional weapons would not be effective. But in most cases, these are usually spontaneous incidents and it is unlikely that the perpetrator will have clothing capable of stopping a TASER gun from piercing it. So I would also like to add that fatal shootings involving police officers attract a huge amount of public and media attention. They are very expensive in terms of loss of injury, trauma, public inquiries, independent investigations. In order to stop that sort of thing happening, Sir, the use of the TASER gun will help that situation immensely. 

3.12.7 Deputy J.B. Fox:

 Recognising that our laws over here, many of which are common law and we have not caught up with many statutory laws, the question that was asked by the Connétable of St. Peter I think is a good one and although an answer was given in relation to human rights, et cetera, I would ask the Assistant Minister if he would go away and cause questions to be asked on the legality through the Crown Officers, et cetera, and if he could bring back an answer to this House please. So that if this thing is brought in, if this weapon is brought in, that we have taken the necessary steps to ensure that there are safeguards and it may materialise at a later date.
The Deputy of St John:
Consultation has taken place with the Law Officers and indeed are partly due to some of the import problems that we are incurring in acquiring this piece of equipment and the information we have from the Law Officers is that there is absolutely no legal or policy reason why the States of Jersey Police should not be in possession of such equipment as indeed most U.K. forces are and indeed Guernsey is as well. I would state again that I understand there has been no legal reason why they cannot be possessed by the States of Jersey Police and indeed deployed in a similar manner to conventional firearms are at the moment. There is again no legal reason why, in exceptional circumstances that dictate if a firearm should be deployed, they cannot be deployed under our current laws and I see absolutely no need for any additional legislation to safeguard a less lethal option which indeed the TASER weapon is. 

3.12.8 Deputy G.C.L. Baudains:

Unfortunately it appears the Assistant Minister is not well informed. If I may read what the answer given by his Minister clearly states in instances where it has been discharged - that is a TASER gun - and the subject has been wearing heavy clothing or under the influence of drink or drugs or indeed both, it has proved no more than a distraction. In light of that, would the Assistant Minister care to review his previous answer to my question? 
The Deputy of St John:
Yes, Sir, I think if the Deputy reads the response correctly, he is talking about launcher baton guns, not the TASER weapons, a quite different instrument and it is used occasionally. It is reminiscent, perhaps, of the old plastic bullets idea that was used in Northern Ireland back in the 1970s and 1980s, a reformed version of that. It cannot be used in close quarters because of ricocheted issues and it can only be effective if it in fact hits the lower abdomen of somebody - that is the only way that it is effective. Therefore if a suspect, for example, is standing behind a sofa or the bottom part of their body is obscured, it cannot be used and indeed if they are in a building it cannot be used safely and that is what that answer to the question refers to. It is the launcher baton gun, not the TASER weapon. 
Deputy G.C.L. Baudains:
In fact, the same conditions apply to the TASER gun if the Assistant Minister had studied the subject. 
The Deputy of St John:
I would dispute that, Sir the two are quite different and the information that I have, having studied the subject quite in depth in recent months, is that the TASER if far more effective, although the range is not quite the same.