The right tools for the job

20 March 2017

Whether more police officers should carry Taser, or if there should be more armed officers, have been hot topics of debate in recent weeks, with surveys suggesting that both police officers and the public want to see more Tasers on the streets. Chair Steve White recently spoke to Policing Insight on the topic and how it is important to listen to the public and the survey results to ensure officers get the kit they need. He argues that more open public engagement is needed - as well as sufficient resources - to make sure officers get the kit they need.

The outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe used his final speech to explain why he believed more officers should be armed with the less-than-lethal weapons.

A recent survey by the Metropolitan Federation backed up our national one, with officers themselves saying Taser was a key piece of kit, and more than half of Met officers responding saying an increase in Armed Firearms Officers was needed.

These are serious issues to consider, and not something we take a stance on lightly. One of the vital principles of a successful police service is that it reflects the communities it serves.

To do that, police have to listen to their communities; allowing them to set our priorities, and offering their support in us changing things for the better. It’s a two-way relationship.

This style of listening and engaging is equally important at the service and government level – but unfortunately the ease and understanding seems to get a little lost as we move up the chain of authority. Taser is the perfect example – the public and officers want it, but there is very strong voices trying to ensure no more are issued.

We haven’t just made up that people want Taser – there’s evidence to prove it. While there has been recent high profile Taser incidents in both Avon and Somerset and in Greater Manchester, a public survey gave strong support for a greater roll out of Taser – 71% of respondents considered it acceptable for police officers to carry Taser when on patrol. When it suggested that Taser was combined with Body Worn Video, support went up even higher.

A survey of our own members showed 82% of those who responded said Taser should be issued to more frontline officers. That is up 8% since 2014. Those same members cited particular areas which needed better availability: neighbourhood policing (86%), roads policing (86%) and response (82%).

A further survey by the Metropolitan Police Federation found that 75% of officers surveyed felt police should be issued Taser on duty. Those results also found only 6% of officers felt there are currently an “adequate” amount of gun carrying officers in the capital.

It's also worth noting that in 80% of incidents where Taser is drawn, it's not fired. The little red dot appearing on the offender’s chest is enough of a deterrent for them to think: "hold up, maybe I need to calm down". Training for Taser use is some of the best in the world, and will continue to be something we all push to keep at incredibly high standards.

Given these facts, why is there still such reluctance to get on with providing these essential pieces of kit?

I recently took part in the BBC's The Big Questions to discuss whether more police should be armed. In the audience were journalists, columnists and representatives of various influential think tanks and activist organisations.

Most importantly though, there were also members of the public, and they had the most pragmatic view of everyone: "leave it for the police to decide what they need, and let them have it".

Taser is not about abandoning traditional policing skills, it’s about flexibility, different tactical options and public and police officer safety. It’s about the service embracing new technology. It’s about facing threats which, a generation ago, were unheard of. It’s not about moving to a fully armed policing model.

The recent HMIC report on Police Effectiveness found that the police service is struggling to cope with the demand it faces. We’ve been saying that for a while, and it’s true.

Demand on policing is both changing and increasing. Where we have to adapt to manage this change, we need to equip those on the frontline with the right tools for the job; this includes Taser.

Only last week, the Government finally gave their approval for the new model of Taser, the X2. It’s been a long time coming, and having this improved model should give people more confidence in the piece of kit.

The Government said it was "committed to giving the police the tools they need to do their job effectively", but, it’s also a case of give with one hand and take with the other. Government must also commit the funds to ensure officers get to use this improved and important piece of kit, not leave it stuck on shelves because Chief Constables can’t afford them.

Whether or not the X2 is rolled out in the coming months, or coming years, what is important is that as a service we continue to openly engage with the public, and perhaps those who misunderstand what we are trying to achieve will start to change their way of thinking.