I’m peering through the gloom of the open window on the ground floor into the lounge area of the bungalow. There is an old woman sitting in the corner of the room looking scared. A younger man, her son of 45 years is sitting opposite, with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and his other hand on a large axe which is resting on his lap. The TV is flickering in the corner of the room but no one is looking at it. The faces say a stalemate has descended upon the room. Everyone has played their cards and the next move is over to us.
I’ve got a G36 rifle strapped to my chest and a Glock 9mm pistol on my hip. I’m dressed in blacks and have a balaclava over my face. I probably look a bit foreboding to be honest, but so do the other 3 officers to my right stooped below the line of the window. They have a ‘red key’ door forcer ready and waiting and a first aid kit ruck sack splayed open in readiness for if things take a turn for the worse. He’s getting more drunk and volatile and we need to end this safely as soon as possible. I gaze around the room through the window and notice the table on it’s side with hack marks across the polished surface, and the slashes in the plaster board wall. The woman is shaking. She’s his mother and a domestic has occurred. He’s flipped and is now holding her hostage threatening to kill her. We have been called by a neighbour and we have managed to pull some sort of a plan together. Something for us to take minutes to organise, and for the lawyers to take months to pull apart.
Contingencies are set. Some fatal ones in case he decides to run at his mother on seeing us. We will be criticised if we end up shooting him. Why didn’t you wait it out and let him sober up? Okay, so we shall wait, but then he get’s more drunk and emotional and the result is the same. We will be criticised. I gave up a long time ago caring what impossible critics thought. There is only one person I have to satisfy we did the write thing, and that is the one standing in my shoes looking at this scene.
I call out in a calm but firm manner to the male. The guys are ready to go, poised. The male fronts up, puffs his chest out and screams at me, I fire… a taser. ‘Clackackackackack’, he stiffens and reaches taller than he’s ever been before, and then with a sigh like a deflating cushion, he folds over onto the carpet in front of the settee. ‘GO GO GO’ I shout and the guys are off, the door forcer crashing through the conservatory doors swinging in on themselves with glass shattering for meters around. The wooden frame twisting and snapping as several size 10 boots crash over it.
The Taser cycle of 5 seconds ends and the male is jumping up enraged, pulling off his T-shirt and therefore the barbs in his chest. The contact is broken, I see progress is slower than I had hoped and there is a moment of concern, before the dead cartridge drops to the floor and I swing it’s replacement on the front and fire again, both barbs making contact with his bare chest and down he goes again. My colleagues forcing their way in past a barricade and on to his rigid body. It’s 30 seconds and he’s in hand cuffs, his mother is led away in tears and the shattered house is boarded up to protect it from the elements. This wasn’t Manchester. This was Willand near Cullompton in Devon. One neighbour reported a disturbance, the others had no idea what had gone on, there were no waiting press, no one went to hospital, and myself and my officers wrote a statement and then attended a road collision after that. Life carried on, but a Taser saved a life that night, and nobody knew, or cared.
Taser is a brand name, but if I called it a conducted electrical weapon, you may not read further. I am not going into the technical bits which are quite complicated and involve inventors of mystical powers, but I can speak from experience and tell you what I saw. I have seen it save life. I have seen incidents prevented from developing just by the red dot being switched on, and I have seen it have little and no effect also.
Here’s the deal. I have one, I am fortunate to have one, as I can hide behind it when a little bit scared. Other officers don’t get that opportunity. I have taken it out of the holster several times, and used it fully once. You see the phrase once bitten twice shy comes into being and so usually the site of it or knowledge an officer has it can subdue a subject without the need to deploy it fully. Once tasered, it hurts and you won’t want to repeat the experience if a subject. So are police going around torturing poor old members of public? Are poor individuals dying from being tasered left right and centre, and as a councillor said to me recently, until people stop dying, we should keep to traditional means. I despair at this ignorant view. Mainly as the violent aggressor who wants to rip the throat from the officer gets to not be tasered but the officer has to suffer the huge and horrific injuries for the pleasure.
I am glad to listen to advice and opinions, but from experience or knowledge, not from people who have tv programmes and media chat to go by. Lets get rid of some myths shall we?
- Taser will stun you and knock you out – no it won’t. It will effect your muscles in a way a bit like cramp. I mean horrendous cramp, and the person will fall over and rarely be injured. I said that and I mean it. As long as you don’t taser someone on the edge of a cliff or tall building, they are usually completely unharmed.
- The Taser always works and so can be relied upon – no it won’t. We all saw the video in the London Tube station when several attempts were made without success. The Taser fires two barbs. They have to be far enough apart to get a good spread. If the suspect has thick clothing, it may not work. Hit them with one barb, it won’t work. Try hitting a person with both barbs as they are trying to stab you with a knife and running towards you at speed. Given this situation, I would not risk my life by hoping my barbs both hit and have the desired effect. I would have to use a glock 9mm pistol as my very last resort. I would of course hope to taser them earlier if given the opportunity or use a baton gun (AEP) to stop it developing into this situation from a safer distance but there are too many variables with a taser not working and with its restricted distance ability. I won’t bet my life on me hitting a charging knife man with my taser. It would be the Glock. Rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.
- Tasers kill lots of people. No it doesn’t. If someone has a heart condition and under extremely rare circumstances dies because of being Tasered, then at least I am alive. I don’t think that is harsh. It was me or them. Taser will not be used on an annoying person. There is strict training and legislation such as the Human Rights Act. Don’t believe all the rubbish you hear on social media. Police officers do not go round wishing to torture the public.
- There aren’t enough checks on the Taser to establish facts. – wrong. It fires confetti with thousands of the same serial number on so each fired cartridge is traceable to the user. The taser measures the specific time it fired, the date, the temperature of the air at the time, it measures the length of time the trigger was pulled on the subject and it measures how many times the trigger was pulled and for how long.
- Police will use it all the time – Truncheons and batons brake arms and legs. They cause bone to break. Having been tasered and then easily controlled by the officer, with no struggle or after effect, the person is 100% fit to stand up and behave in a normal way, straight away, when the trigger is released. No recovery time is required. Say that to an offender with a broken arm.
I have seen the tasered used on a self harmer. Sound a bit tough? Well it’s the perfect tool to use when you realise negotiation is failing to save a persons life. Some poor soul so desperate with the serrated edge of a kitchen knife against her wrist in the bedroom flat. Tears running down her face, drug induced psychosis, and not willing to listen to calming reason. She glares her eyes at me, and strains her face, her teeth and begins to scream long and loud like an injured animal. I know I have lost the situation as she slowly but firmly saws the knife across into her wrist. I hear a ‘Clat’ then ‘clatatatatatat’ and the girl falls like a tree slowly being felled, across the bed and onto the floor. My colleague has fired his taser next to me. Whilst the taser is still on, I can calmly walk over to her, bend down and gently pick the knife up between my finger and thumb with no danger to myself. I then walk away. The woman is unharmed, the police officers are unharmed and the knife is recovered. The woman is now able to receive some mental health assistance.
As an armed response Sergeant, I carry a baton, pepper spray, taser, Glock and I have other larger weapons available within seconds. The order of force we use is this. After having tried negotiation and officer presence, taser would be first choice, then pepper spray if no taser available, then baton in that order for a very good reason. Taser has no recovery period. The subject is 100% well immediately. Pepper spray is just horrible and you will create so much snot and mucus for nearly an hour afterwards it really isn’t a pleasant substance. Try rubbing a chilli in your eyes and you will get an idea, as that is the main component of pepper spray. A synthetic chilli for an accurate consistent deployment. And then the traditional baton. I don’t know about you, but although the pain is horrible for the taser, at least as an offender, I won’t be in hospital from a baton strike.
Generally people understand that police are good people who want to help others. But there are others who feel Police will want to torture people if given the tools to do so, which is what the main critics fear. Trust us to do the job, or change the police force you have. Officers are getting injured by horrible means whilst this decision is batted about.
I have also found that as an armed response officer, having attended the address earlier with the male holding his mother hostage, when we were called to the address again some weeks later, a by product was that he could not have been more polite. They don’t like it you know. The public are able to claw back some control from the streets.
Tasers are expensive, very expensive, about £750 each and about £20 for each cartridge. Fine until you realise they have a use by date and as well as the training of each officer, you have to pay for the refresher training. There is a cost. But take it from me, who has been at the bottom of a violent mob trying to do me great damage as recently as last year, when I thought I was really in trouble and knew they could get away with anything at that point, I decided not to use the taser on them. I knew they would get it off me and use it against me as there were so many more of them than me. So it’s not the solution to everything. It is a tool, one tool, and if ever replaced for armed cover, may your error never come back to haunt you, as when you need it to work the most, it may not.
Control rooms sending Taser officers to violent persons with knives thinking they are covered with taser will be bitten one day. We will attend a Police funeral before long if some continue to do that. By all means get the taser there to protect the public in the interim, but get the Armed Response there too so they can use other less lethal options at greater distances and have a conventional solution if all other efforts have been considered, tried, but failed.
Tell me it doesn’t work, when I walked into a pub with my firearms colleagues to deal with a man after a domestic standing at the bar with a machete stuffed in his waistband and him carrying invisible carpets under each arm with raised veins like he’d just done 10 bench presses. Tell me that him throwing the machete to the floor and putting his hands on his head wasn’t the best solution just because the red dot appeared on his chest. No trigger pulled, no pain for him even, but tell me that taser shouldn’t be used because the occasional person has a heart attack after trying to kill a police officer. My sympathy is rather lacking on that one. If you are a pacifist, then I suggest you hope that every Police officer has access to a taser. And trust in their training, and their judgement, and by all means, sack the ones that have alternative motives. You will be shocked by how few of those there are.