Taser happy

It has been reported that police in Lancashire tasered a blind man by mistake. He was carrying a white stick and it was taken for a samurai sword.

I’ve followed this sort of case for a time, largely because I’ve undertaken previous work on complaints for HMICS (the Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland) and the Police Complaints Commissoner for Scotland. The main organisation dealing with these issues in the US is the National Association for Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement, or NACOLE; they regularly report issues of this kind from the US. So, before Taser use in the UK became widespread, there were reports from NACOLE of a UCLA student tasered for refusing to leave the library, a great-grandmother tasered for arguing with a traffic policeman, and a deaf man tasered because he’d stayed too long in a store’s toilet and failed to come out when the shout of “police” was made. Given the track record, it was all too predictable that there’d be similar incidents in the UK as we took up the same technology.

Complaints against the police are generally levied against individual officers; there is a presumption that the officer who uses inappropriate force is individually at fault, and the complaint is routinely framed in these terms. This has things the wrong way about. The complaints that members of the public have about the conduct of officers are almost always complaints about the service, and it is never open to an individual member of the public to act against an individual officer. The problems stem from policy decisions, and it will only be through policy that adequate safeguards and controls can be developed.

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