Evening Standard 26 September 2006
A human rights body hit out today at "alarming" calls to extend the use of Taser guns by police. The weapons, designed to temporarily incapacitate by delivering a strong electrical pulse, are currently used only by trained firearms officers.
But Amnesty International described requests for all police officers in Scotland to be issued with Tasers as "a proposal we find alarming".
Amnesty International's programme director for Scotland, Rosemary Burnett, said: "There should be no consideration of such a move without a full public inquiry into the safety of Tasers and their potential impact on Scotland's policing."
The human rights body was holding a seminar on the devices at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh today.
More than 150 Taser-related deaths have occurred in the USA and Canada since 2001, said Amnesty. Yet there have been no comprehensive and independent studies, and the deaths have fuelled safety concerns, it said.
"Most people who have died in custody after Taser use have not been a serious threat," said Amnesty.
"Many people, including children and the elderly, have been Tasered in circumstances Amnesty International considers an excessive use of force, sometimes amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Ms Burnett said: "Our research in the USA shows that Tasers can kill. We hope that Amnesty's experience and research in America will help inform the debate in Scotland."
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "In the light of the rather alarming increase in the number of deaths in custody in other countries, we have to question the notion that Tasers are non-lethal weapons.
"There is evidence that those with heart problems can be killed by a shock of this magnitude."
Norrie Flowers, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, defended the use of the devices. He insisted none of the deaths in the US had been directly attributed to the use of the weapon.
And police officers are already accountable for their actions, he told BBC Radio Scotland. "We're talking about officer safety, we're talking about public safety," said Mr Flowers.
"Every single police officer is accountable for their actions, and no police officer takes it lightly when they have to use any kind of force."