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Britain tasers, tasers police officers
Associated Press

British Bobbies May Adopt Tasers

December 12, 2008 04:59 PM
by Liz Colville
Britain is now discussing a plan to give the country’s minimally armed police officers a new weapon.

Baton-Wielding Bobbies: Due for an Upgrade?

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For years, Britain’s bobbies have only had batons and pepper spray to protect themselves; today, they “face greater dangers on the job,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. Consequently, the government is now “extending the use of Taser stun guns beyond specialist units to tens of thousands of front-line officers.”

But the proposal is facing “resistance” from advocacy groups, lawmakers and police officers, according to the Monitor.

British police are traditionally unarmed, and have been since the founding of Scotland Yard in 1829. But a rise in the number of cases of knife violence in the UK has prompted the government to rethink that policy. A 2007 Times of London article reported that a study named the UK “one of the knife crime blackspots of the developed world.” 

As of Dec. 12, London’s Metropolitan Police Authority had not agreed to the Taser measure. Facing criticism and a “damning” verdict over the fatal 2005 shooting of a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was mistaken for a terrorist, the MPA appears reluctant to adopt any measure that would “cause fear and damage public confidence.”

Background: UK violence on the rise; Taser fatalities, too

Amid a number of fatal stabbings in the UK in 2007, a study by a law professor at Tilburg University in Holland asked about 2,000 people aged 16 or older about their experiences with violent crime over the past five years of their lives, finding that “13% of violent crime victims in England and Wales had been stabbed or threatened with a knife. Scotland came close behind. Only Spain and Portugal had worse figures.”

But concurrent with this statistic is a rise in the number of controversial and fatal uses of force by British police, particularly following the 2005 bombings in the London Underground. Two weeks after the bombings, a MPA terrorist squad fatally shot a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, when he was mistaken for a terrorist on the MPA’s watch list. On Dec. 12, 2008, the jury dismissed the police claim that the incident was a “lawful killing.” The case sparked public outrage and tarnished Scotland Yard’s reputation. De Menezes’ cousin called the verdict “a damning indictment of the multiple failures of the police.”

A week before the De Menezes shooting, Nicholas Gaubert was tasered by police officers on a bus after failing to respond to them; a diabetic, he had passed out following a hypoglycemic attack. The police officers, who said that Gaubert “looked Egyptian,” have not been charged. Meanwhile, his lawyer says he still suffers from post-traumatic stress from the event.

Canada, whose Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are, like the UK’s police force, armed minimally, has also come under scrutiny for its use of Tasers in recent years. A February 2008 story by the Canwest News Service reported that, according to Amnesty International, 17 people died in Canada from Taser-related deaths in the period from 2001 to 2007.

Reference: What are Tasers?

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