Dorset PCC Campaigns Against Tasers Being Used In Police Cells
Calls for greater scrutiny of taser deployment.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the APCC Mental Health Working Group Martyn Underhill is calling on the Government to draft new guidance to stop tasers being used on detainees in police cells, especially on people in mental health crisis.
The PCC has raised his concerns to Home Office officials, after learning of three cases of detained persons in Dorset being tasered inside a custody block cell since 2013. One or more of these detainees had mental health issues. Martyn Underhill has also written to the Chief Constable of Dorset Police, Debbie Simpson, to formalise his concerns and to request the following:
1. A summary of the three incidents. It is currently unclear whether the three people were detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act or for criminal offences.
2. A commitment from Dorset Police that any future deployment of a taser (where the taser is fired) in a custody suite will be brought to the attention of the Dorset OPCC within 24 hours.
3. A guarantee from Dorset Police that, whenever possible, such taser deployments are captured on video.
Martyn Underhill, Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I am really concerned to learn about the use of tasers in police cells. In my view the Police Service needs stricter boundaries on deployment and stronger scrutiny when they do deploy. Just as I have campaigned to stop the appalling practice of adults and children in mental health crisis being criminalised in custody suites, so I will campaign to stop mentally ill people being tasered in a cell.
A decade ago, politicians and the public were persuaded to import taser into the UK as an alternative to shooting someone dead. The Police Service has allowed “mission creep” and now tasers are routinely carried and deployed as an alternative to all types of restraint. Parliament needs to intervene here and swing the pendulum back.”
“It will never ‘be okay’ to taser someone who is scared, frightened and in crisis in a small cell. People have human rights and their dignity must be protected. Whilst I accept taser deployment is an operational matter, and therefore outside of my remit, I believe the public will expect stricter guidance and scrutiny here. Of course, one of the main issues is to remove persons in crisis who haven’t broken the law from police cells to healthcare settings, and that argument is well rehears”
The PCC is in dialogue with a number of mental health leads across the country on this issue, including the College of Policing, HMIC and the Independent Custody Visitors Association.
Martyn Underhill added: “This is a national issue. I am sure that Dorset Police is no different to any other Force and I note that Dorset Police complies with the current ACPO guidance regarding the use of tasers. However, I believe this is an issue worthy of an informed public debate and I strongly believe that there needs to be enhanced scrutiny of taser use and improved data recording of cell block taser deployments.”
“This debate needs to sit within a wider policy discussion of the use of force against detainees in police custody and Martyn Underhill is determined to keep that debate alive.”