Armed policing

Conducted energy devices (Taser)

The Taser is a single shot device designed to temporarily incapacitate a subject through use of an electrical current which temporarily interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system.

It is one of a number of tactical options available when dealing with an incident with the potential for conflict.

Taser will not be routinely used to police public order/public safety events, but may be used as an option to respond to circumstances within the operation. The use of Taser ranges from the physical presence of a drawn device through to discharge.

Description

The conducted energy device approved for use by police officers in the UK is the X26 Taser.

These weapons are laser-sighted and use cartridges attached to the end of a cartridge bay. The cartridges project a pair of barbs or darts attached to insulated wires. The device delivers its electrical charge in a 5 second cycle which can be stopped, extended or repeated.

Taser is classified by National Less Lethal Weapons Working Group as ‘work related equipment’ (in the same way as firearms) and not as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Operating requirements

The Taser is primarily designed to fire the wires and contact barbs. To be effective:

  • the Taser power source must have sufficient charge
  • the wires connecting the barbs to the Taser are required to remain intact
  • two darts, two electrodes or a combination of one dart and one electrode are required to make contact with the subject’s body or clothing.

Range

The maximum range of the device is determined by the length of the wires that carry the current and attach the barbs to the weapon (currently this is 21 feet or 6.4 metres).

The effective range at which it is likely that the two barbs will attach themselves to the subject may be a lesser distance.

Stun modes

The Taser may be used to achieve incapacitation in ‘angled drive stun’ mode with a cartridge fitted. Where justifiable, ‘drive stun’ without a cartridge (or an expended cartridge attached) could be used – but this will not achieve incapacitation.

The weapon may also be used in a direct contact stun mode.

Effects

The normal reaction of a person exposed to a Taser’s discharge is loss of some voluntary muscle control. This can result in the subject falling to the ground, causing various secondary injuries, or ‘freezing’ on the spot.

Provided both barbs attach correctly with sufficient spread, the effects are likely to be instantaneous. The direct incapacitating effect is only likely to last for as long as the electrical charge is being delivered. The subject may recover immediately afterwards and could continue with their previous behaviour – an incapacitated subject must therefore be controlled quickly and effectively.

The five-second cycle can be repeated if the incapacitation results does not appear to take effect. Officers should review other options as there may be technical or physiological reasons why the device is not working as expected on a particular individual (the National Decision Model should be used).

Storage

Electrical devices should not be stored alongside pyrotechnics, ammunition, specialist munitions or flammable products. Chief officers should ensure that there is provision for storing Tasers as section 5 Firearms Act 1968 prohibited weapons.

In addition, the manufacturer’s storage guidelines should be considered.

Data logging system

The Taser has an internal data logging system which records the details of approximately the previous 2000 activations.

This log shows the time and date that the current was discharged, the length of the discharge, temperature and battery condition.

Using specific Taser data software, the details of all activations can be downloaded to a computer via the dataport – see dataport auditing.

Issue and possession

The Taser will be issued only to selected and specially trained individuals who have successfully completed National Less Lethal Weapons (LLW) training in the use of the device.

Officers will carry out appropriate daily function checks in accordance with their training whenever the weapon is issued, to ensure that the device is working correctly.

Conducted energy devices are classified as ‘prohibited weapons’ by virtue of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. Police officers, while acting in their capacity as such, are exempt from the requirements of the legislation and do not need any additional legal authority to possess the Taser.

Other agencies may require a section 5 authority from the Home Office.

Uniformed users

Taser will be carried only on the wearer’s weak side to avoid any confusion over the choice of weapon, and to avoid any public misconception of the nature of the type of weapon being carried.

It has been shown in other countries that confusion over weapon selection in a dynamic situation has led to death and serious injury.

Covert carriage (eg, surveillance or protection duties)

Taser will be carried in a clip, holster or carriage system, in accordance with the user’s training, so as to avoid any confusion over the selection and use of lethal and less lethal weapons.

Deployment

The term ‘deployed’ means that an officer has been tasked to an incident (by a supervisor trained in the use of the National Decision Model (NDM)).

Taser may be deployed and used as one of a number of tactical options only after application of the NDM. It should be readily available, and once deployed, normal supervision protocols will apply.

It is not practicable or possible to provide a definitive list of circumstances where Taser would be appropriate.

Use

The use of Taser ranges from the physical presence of a drawn Taser through to discharge

The term ‘use’ includes any of the following actions carried out in an operational setting:

  • drawing the Taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action as a use of force
  • sparking of the Taser, commonly known as ‘arcing’
  • aiming the Taser or placing the laser sight red dot onto a subject
  • firing a Taser so that the barbs are discharged at a subject or animal
  • application and discharge of a Taser in both angled and drive stun modes
  • discharged in any other operational circumstances, including an unintentional discharge.

The carriage of Taser does not, in itself, constitute a use of force. But when a Taser is ‘used’ the officer in possession is both legally and organisationally accountable.

The discharge of Taser is intended to mitigate the threat by temporarily incapacitating the individual, not solely to inflict severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of official duties (see ECHR Article 3).

The duration of the initial discharge and any subsequent discharge must be proportionate, lawful, accountable and absolutely necessary (PLAN).

Incidents where subjects are already contained or restrained may be subject to closer scrutiny or interest. Any medical risk may be increased the longer or more often the device is discharged.

Oral and visual warning

Where circumstances permit, officers should give a clear warning of their intent to use the Taser.

They should give sufficient time for the warning to be heeded, unless to do so would unduly place any person at risk, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident.

Visual deterrents

In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to provide a visual display of the sparking effect of the unloaded Taser – while this may have a deterrent effect, it removes the capability of using the Taser with a cartridge readily available.

The visual effect of the laser sight being directed at an individual may also have a deterrent effect. Officers should be aware that pointing a Taser at an individual represents a use of force.

Verbal warning and contact

Officers shall give the clear verbal warning, ‘Taser, Taser’, indicating to all persons in the vicinity that Taser is being discharged.

All officers should receive training in communicating with subjects. On first verbal contact, officers should normally:

  • identify themselves as officers and state that they are equipped with Taser
  • clarify who it is they are seeking to communicate with
  • communicate in a clear and appropriate manner.

Where weapons are fitted with torches or laser sights, officers should consider the effects of their use during any confrontation.

Risk factors

There are a number of factors which may influence the operational use of Taser. These include, but are not limited to:

  • head injuries from unsupported falls
  • flammability
  • repeated and/or prolonged use
  • avoidance of sensitive areas
  • pre-existing medical conditions
  • positional asphyxia
  • acute behavioural disturbance/excited delirium
  • vulnerable people
  • children and people of small stature.

Scenario training in the use of Taser is conducted in a way that emphasises the precautions and considerations in relation to risk factors.

Multi-agency and cross-border arrangements

Sometimes a chief officer agrees to assist another law enforcement agency or other public service agency with an operation that is within their force area, and the appropriate authority to deploy Taser or attenuating energy projectiles is given.

In these circumstances everyone involved must understand who is in command of each part of the operation. Command protocols may be a useful means of clarifying this.

Close coordination and detailed planning between organisations is fundamental and should normally be agreed at strategic command (gold) level or its equivalent level of management in the organisation concerned.

Post-use procedures

In any situation where a Taser is discharged, appropriate post-use procedures should be implemented depending on the nature of the injury or harm caused. Every use will warrant, where possible, consideration for minimum standard forensic retrieval.

Aftercare

Removal of barbs

Barbs which have penetrated the skin should normally be removed by a medical professional either at the scene, at a hospital or in the custody suite. This is principally because of the:

  • requirement for infection control
  • potential for additional trauma to the skin and superficial tissues of the subject
  • risk of self-injury.

In the best interest and wellbeing of the subject or in the event of operational necessity, police officers trained in barb removal, minimum standards of forensic recovery and the associated risks may carry out this procedure. Needles/barbs in particularly vulnerable areas (eg, the eyes) should always be removed by medical professionals only.

Immediate referral to hospital

If an officer believes that a person to whom a Taser has been applied has a cardiac pacemaker, Vagus nerve stimulator or other implanted device, immediate referral should be made to hospital.

Similarly, if the subject is found to have any other pre-existing medical condition that might lead to increased medical risk, immediate referral to a hospital should be considered.

Medical assessment

All arrested persons who have been subjected to the discharge of a Taser must be examined by a forensic medical examiner (FME) as soon as practicable after arrival at the custody suite.

Taser information leaflets

At the earliest opportunity following arrival at the custody suite, a detainee who has been subjected to a Taser discharge should be given an appropriate  information leaflet describing the Taser, its mode of operation and effects. This leaflet should be fully explained.

The following leaflets are available:

The Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine (2013) Taser: Clinical Effects and Management of Those Subjected to Taser Discharge  leaflet also provides advice to those subjected to discharge as well as information for GPs and hospital clinicians to use as appropriate.

Evidential collection of equipment

Forces should consider the availability of evidence collection equipment, including cameras and appropriate packaging.

Once the barbs are removed, they must be secured as evidence and any injury or damage noted. Barbs removed from the body should be considered as biohazards. Suitable evidential containers need to be readily available for the removed barbs, which must then be examined to ensure they are complete.

Dataport auditing

The Taser’s internal data logging system means the details of all activations can be downloaded to a computer. Tasers should be dataport downloaded at least every eight weeks. At that time a full function check should also be carried out.

Dataport download information needs to be retained in an encrypted format to provide a secure and credible audit trail of the activations from each Taser. The information should be reviewed to allow for fault analysis and timely indications of improper or unaccounted use.

Protection is provided to officers who use the Taser and to those on whom it is used, as the data is recorded by the device on each occasion that it is discharged.

Taser evaluation forms

A Taser evaluation form needs to be completed on every occasion where a Taser is used (this includes policing operations where the use of firearms has been authorised). The form should be completed prior to the end of each tour of duty, but in any case within 24 hours of the use. Forms should be submitted to ACPO Firearms, the Home Office and ACPO SDAR (Self-Defence, Arrest and Restraint).

The Taser SPOC is responsible for reviewing, collating and recording all Taser evaluation forms.

Evaluation checklist

Evaluation checklist

Post incident referral

All public complaints about the use of Taser should be referred to the IPCC, Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland or Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) as appropriate, for assessment/post-incident investigation. 

Particular scrutiny will be applied when a Taser is used:

  • in drive stun mode
  • on individuals with mental health difficulties, the young and other vulnerable people
  • in confined spaces, for example, a custody cell.

The above criteria do not preclude the referral of incidents in other circumstances if appropriate, for example, where a Taser is used outside current force guidelines.

In the event of an unintentional discharge where there has been no danger to the public, the minimum standard forensic recovery should be followed and the incident should be subject to an internal investigation. See also guidance on post incident procedures.

Monitoring and review

The operational use of Taser and attenuating energy projectiles is monitored by:

  • National Less Lethal Weapons Working Group
  • CAST
  • Scientific Advisory Council on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons (SACMILL).

Operational use is reviewed at regular intervals by the College of Policing on behalf of the National Less Lethal Weapons Working Group to ensure that emerging issues are properly reflected in training and operational guidance.

Representatives of CAST, DSTL and SACMILL are invited to contribute to the process.

Taser SPOC

All forces and agencies must appoint a Taser single point of contact (SPOC) to receive and evaluate all Taser Evaluation Forms prior to them being submitted to ACPO Firearms, the Home Office and ACPO SDAR.

This Taser SPOC acts as the conduit between the force and the representative from the National Less Lethal Weapons Working Group.

The Taser SPOC is required to clarify any information on the form and disseminate any updates and learning to staff in their own force.

Post-use function checks

Checks that the Taser is operating to the manufacturer’s specification can be conducted by CAST if there is, or is suspected to be:

  • a technical fault
  • unexpected injury
  • the requirement for referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)
  • a high-profile case.

These checks may additionally be requested at a force’s or agency’s discretion.

The Taser must be delivered to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) as an evidential item because X26 Tasers are section 5 Firearms Act 1968 weapons – the digital power magazine (DPM) should remain in the device.

Training

All Taser users need to have an appreciation of the physical and psychological effects of conducted energy devices. All Taser users will receive full training and assessment in accordance with Taser Training packages.

The minimum contact time for initial training is 18 hours. There will follow a minimum 6 hours per annum of refresher training. Annual refresher packages are strictly controlled to ensure that users and commanders receive the relevant updates and training.

Individuals will not be subject to the effects of Taser during training.

Page last accessed 26 March 2017