Tasers drawn by Thames Valley police more than 1,000 times in a year

Tasers were used disproportionately on black people by the police force covering Milton Keynes.
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Police in Thames Valley used Tasers more than 1,000 times in a year – and disproportionately against black people, figures suggest.

In a recent report, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) raised serious concerns around the unnecessary or unsafe use of the devices by forces across England and Wales, particularly against non-white or vulnerable people and children.

It highlighted disproportionate use of Tasers against black people, a matter currently the subject of an extensive review spearheaded by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.

Taser-use was disproportionated used against black people by the police force covering Milton KeynesTaser-use was disproportionated used against black people by the police force covering Milton Keynes
Taser-use was disproportionated used against black people by the police force covering Milton Keynes

Home Office data shows that Thames Valley Police drew Tasers 1,037 times in the year to March 2020, though officers only discharged the electric shock weapons on 127 occasions.

The figures show that where the subject's ethnicity was recorded, 740 incidents of Taser-use involved white people, compared to 146 involving black people.

It meant black people were involved in 14% of all Taser incidents, despite representing 2.9% of the population, according to the latest population estimates at police force level.

The figures count the number of times officers involved in an incident used their Taser rather than the number of separate incidents.

Across England and Wales, black people were eight times more likely to be subject to use of Taser than white people in 2019-20, according to the IOPC report.

Chief Constable Lucy D'Orsi, the NPCC's lead for less lethal weapons, said the work to understand and tackle racial disproportionalities in Taser use would remain a policing priority.

She added: "We do not yet understand the reason for this and that’s why, for over a year and a half, we have been working with national independent advisors and the College of Policing to independently review this disproportionality."

She added: "Policing is not easy and in many violent situations I believe Taser is a viable less lethal option for officers between using a baton and the lethal force of a gun.

"Officers are well trained to use the reasonable force given to them in law to confront the violence or threat of violence they are faced with when they protect the public and themselves."

The IOPC report warned that police risked losing public confidence if concerns around Taser use were not addressed through improvements to guidance, training and scrutiny.

IOPC director Michael Lockwood said forces must be able to justify the circumstances in which Tasers are deployed.

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, of human rights campaign group Amnesty International, said: “The police have a disturbing track record of disproportionately using Tasers against black people and those in mental distress.

“In some circumstances, Tasers can be effective if used by well-trained officers to prevent loss of life or serious injury, but they’re open to misuse and over-use."

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our police officers must be equipped with the resources, tools and powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe – including Taser.

“Officers in England and Wales pass one of the most comprehensive training programmes in the world before being authorised with a Taser.

"In 86% of cases where a Taser is drawn, it is not discharged, demonstrating its impact as a powerful deterrent that deescalates dangerous situations.”