Don't tase me, bro: police mull Taser increase

Cambridgeshire Constabulary is considering training more non-firearms officers to use Tasers, sparking concern amongst students regarding their possible use in policing protests.

Naiara Bazin, a third year Natural Scientist at King's warned: "This comes in the context of ‘total policing' at the November 9 demo, increased surveillance of protesters, undercover cops sleeping with protesters, threatening letters and the threat of rubber bullets.

"The police are evidently afraid of protest and are stocking up on weapons to repress it more violently. This is a troubling sign."

In November 2010, officers were accused of using heavy-handed policing techniques during a student rally outside Senate House. Last March, Jacob Wills, then a student at King's, and Miles Watson, a Cambridge Sixth Form student, were controversially arrested on the grounds of King's College, and formally charged with obstruction. The charges were later dropped amid growing criticism.

However, Chief Constable Simon Parr assured: "The rules governing the use of Taser will remain unchanged and the processes for the selection and training of specialist officers to use this device will continue to be to the same high standards we have always used.

"Extending the use of Taser to more specially trained officers means it can be made available more quickly when it is needed to protect the safety of the public. It can only be used where officers are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they need to use force to protect the public and themselves. It is not a replacement for existing options and will be used alongside negotiation, batons, incapacitant sprays and police dogs to resolve incidents peacefully."

Former police sergeant Mark Tidy said the Tasers are "far better than using a firearm".

"If someone is wielding a weapon the aim is to protect the officer and subdue the suspect. Although most officers don't carry Tasers, in the circumstances some force will be necessary. It's got to be a better option than not using anything at all."

Tidy did, however, stress that: "A police officer has to justify the action."

The plans were disclosed during a Police Authority scrutiny committee last December. The matter was discussed further in a Finance and Resources Committee meeting yesterday at the police headquarters in Huntingdon, chaired by councillor Matthew Lee. At present, only officers in the Tactical Firearms Unit are authorised to use the weapon.

In 2009 Cambridgeshire Constabulary purchased 150 Tasers using a Home Office grant. Tasers are designed as a safer alternative to firearms, since they aim only to temporarily incapacitate the victim.

However, there are ongoing concerns regarding their safety, given that they have previously caused fatalities and may be used more readily than an explicitly deadly weapon.

Judith Welikala - Co-Editor in Chief

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