Police officers in England and Wales have used tasers used over 10,000 times during 2015 and since their introduction in 2005, their use has increased year on year. Government figures also suggest that black people are three times more likely to be tasered than white people.
So what is a taser?
A taser is one of several tactical options available to police officers to protect the public, themselves or to arrest a suspect.
It is a weapon which fires two sharp metal barbs attached to wires. These barbs pierce your skin and an electrical current is transmitted between them causing strong involuntary muscle contractions and extreme pain.
Not all Police officers are specially trained and authorised to carry and use a taser gun, however, those who do can be easily identified.
A taser gun is bright yellow and should be clearly visible on the officer’s body armour or carried visibly on their person.
Before an officer may draw the taser from its pouch, they must decide if its use is legal, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances, and then apply the National Decision Making Model. Simply drawing the taser from its pouch is considered to be a "use of force" and may only be done in situations where the officer feels they are facing serious violence or threats of violence.
Once a taser has been drawn, the officer is trained to give a warning to those nearby by shouting "taser, taser". The taser also has a torch and a "red dot" which can be shone towards a person. The fact that the taser is drawn does not mean that it has to be fired. The officer may find the threat of violence decreases and it is therefore not necessary to fire it.
The Home Office has approved a new type of taser for the police following calls for the current model to be replaced. The "X2" delivers a 50,000 volt surge of electricity, like the previous model, but is said to be more accurate as it has two "red dot" lasers which allow the officer to see exactly where the metal barbs will hit a person. It also has a second cartridge, should the first shot fail, eliminating the need to manually reload the weapon. Another improvement is that it can be linked to footage from Body Worn Cameras, allowing more accountability.
Whilst the mere presence of a taser can diffuse a violent or potentially violent situation, there have been cases where its use has contributed to a person’s death. In fact, the manufacturers of the "X2" describe the weapon as "less-lethal" rather than "non-lethal".