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Editor's Viewpoint

Use of Tasers must be strictly governed

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The United Nations had recommended that Tasers should not be used when police engage with young people

The United Nations had recommended that Tasers should not be used when police engage with young people

PA

The United Nations had recommended that Tasers should not be used when police engage with young people

Police forces have constantly sought to develop a weapon which will protect officers and members of the public from dangerous situations without using firearms, the weapons of last resort. In Northern Ireland the alternatives to live rounds have been rubber and plastic bullets and, more recently, Taser devices, which deliver stunning electric shocks.

No one can object to the forces of law and order seeking less lethal options in the performance of their duties which often bring them into confrontation with violent members of the public.

But the wide availability of Taser devices does not detract from the need for officers to use them in a circumspect manner and in accordance with protocol laid down by the PSNI.

It is therefore concerning that between 2017 and June this year 25 young people under the age of 19 were threatened with Taser devices, the weapon was used against one 17-year-old and a child of 10 was threatened with a Taser device, albeit accidentally.

The Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma argues that the weapon should not be used to threaten young people and should never be fired by police at a young person.

She pointed out that the United Nations had recommended that Taser devices should not be used when police engage with young people.

History in Northern Ireland shows that other allegedly non-lethal options could have serious or even deadly consequences if used inappropriately.

A total of 17 people were killed after being struck by rubber or plastic bullets during the Troubles and many more were injured, including Richard Moore who was blinded by a rubber bullet when coming home from school in Londonderry at the age of 10.

He went on to found the Children in Crossfire charity which helps children in various countries around the world to overcome adversity.

Taser devices have been cited as the main factor in the deaths of two people in the UK which demonstrates the weapon's potential to kill in certain circumstances.

However it has to be accepted that it is an important part of the armoury of the modern police officer and that, as long as it is used in well-defined circumstances, is an advance on previous less lethal options.

It is also encouraging that the Police Ombudsman is notified automatically when Taser devices are used which puts an extra layer of accountability on officers.

Police officers need to be able to defend themselves and protect the public but it must be questioned if young teenagers pose sufficient threat to justify the drawing of Taser devices.

Belfast Telegraph


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