Strathclyde beat cops to be armed with tasers

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By Rory Reynolds

STRATHCLYDE Police is to be the first force in Scotland to arm frontline officers with 50,000-volt taser guns.

A trial scheme being launched next month will determine whether the electronic weapons will give more protection to cops.

Currently only specially trained firearms officers are allowed to handle taser guns, but if the pilot is successful, hundreds of beat officers could be equipped with the electronic weapons.

Stephen House, chief constable of the Strathclyde Police, said he wants beat officers to be better protected after 4,000 Scots cops were assaulted last year.

However, Amnesty International has criticised the pilot programme, claiming that 300 deaths in the US have been caused by taser-fire.Scottish forces began arming specially trained officers in 2005 after 10 forces in England and Wales reported a successful pilot programme.

Dangerous

Les Gray, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, welcomed the move, which could see hundreds of officers carrying the electronic weapons.

He said: “There’s no big mystery about tasers – they are classified as a firearm, but police officers deserve to be protected.

“How many people are running about with dangerous weapons? There’s nothing for the general public to be wary of.

“It’s a deterrent and if it’s used, officers will have to justify their actions.”

Taser weapons fire a dart on a cord that attaches itself to a suspect, before delivering a charge of up to 50,000-volts.

Oliver Sprague, UK arms programme director at Amnesty International, said that widespread use of tasers has been linked to misuse.

He said: “Of course the police have a duty to protect themselves and the community at large from violent situations, but arming more officers with dangerous weapons without the rigorous training and necessary safeguards could well be a recipe for disaster.

Death

“Widespread and routine deployments can lead to tasers being misused, as we have seen in the US, which has on some occasions led to death.

“We don’t want to repeat this in UK policing.”

Last year Taser International, the Arizona-based firm that manufactures the weapons, warned that police forces could face legal claims if a suspect had a heart attack following being tasered.

They highlighted the concerns in a revised training manual, which said: “Should sudden cardiac arrest occur in a scenario involving a taser discharge to the chest area, it would place the law enforcement agency, the officer, and Taser International in the difficult situation of trying to ascertain what role, if any, [the device] could have played.”

Attacked on duty

In 2009 around 520 officers from Strathclyde Police suffered serious injuries after being attacked on duty.

The incidents led to officers taking 980 days off, costing the force around £200,000.

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: “Work has been undertaken with regard to the possibility of extending the use of tasers.

“A paper containing details of this will be presented to the police authority early next month.”

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