Complex picture emerges around disproportionate use of Taser

An independent report exploring the potential causes of racial and ethnic disparities in the use of Taser has been published today

A close up image of a police officer armed with a taser

The researchers studied data from fifteen forces from across England and Wales

Police use of Taser clearly has psychological impacts on those who have experienced it both directly and indirectly, which can damage already fragile relationships between the police and ethnic minority communities.

Dr Leanne Savigar-Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Policing

An independent report exploring the potential causes of racial and ethnic disparities in the use of Taser by police officers in England and Wales has been published today.

Analysis by researchers from Keele University, UCL, The University of Exeter and Staffordshire University suggests that a complex interplay of factors increases the likelihood of Taser being deployed against people from Black and other ethnic minority communities.

The research project was initiated by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and commissioned by the College of Policing, after their Officer and Staff Safety Review (OSSR) in 2019 found there was growing evidence to suggest that Tasers were being used disproportionately in society.

The researchers studied data from fifteen forces from across England and Wales and carried out more than 150 interviews with serving police officers, police scrutiny groups and members of the public. They also reviewed body worn camera footage, observed Taser training, and analysed routine police data to generate an evidence-based understanding of the potential drivers of ethnic and racial disproportionality in police use of Taser, and to inform future interventions aimed at addressing disparities.

Key findings from the research suggest:

  • There is a statistical relationship between ethnicity and increased use of Taser relative to other uses of force in some areas. This is mediated by other factors such as mental ill health, but police routine data collection needs to improve to properly understand these patterns;
  • The disproportionate use of Taser across different communities and populations stems from complex interactions between multiple factors, structures, and processes, both within and external to policing;
  • Policing takes place within a society fractured by inequality and structural racism in that Black and other ethnic minority populations are more likely than White people to live in areas of deprivation;
  • A combination of institutional priorities, policies, practices, and demands mean that policing is concentrated into areas of deprivation, which in turn disproportionately impacts on people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds relative to the White population;
  • Given that police are more active in deprived neighbourhoods, this in turn makes Taser use in those areas more likely;
  • Taser has become institutionalised as an organisational level response to perceived threat and risk, which increases its use in situations that previously have been resolved in other ways, such as through dialogue;
  • Police officers count Taser among the least dangerous use of force options available to them, and risks associated with its use are under emphasized during training. Insufficient time is dedicated to discussions of ethnic disproportionality and de-escalation during Taser training, which risks creating a further push towards the use of the weapon;
  • In contrast, affected communities experience Taser as a dehumanising and potentially lethal weapon. They also emphasised the psychological harms and racialised traumas generated through use of the weapon;
  • Public scrutiny mechanisms designed to hold police officers to account lack adequate support.

The researchers say their findings highlight the need to urgently review multiple areas of Taser policy practice, training, and deployment, and point to broader issues around understandings of discrimination and racism, policing priorities and engagement with people experiencing mental health issues.

Dr Leanne Savigar-Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Policing at Staffordshire University, said: “Police use of Taser clearly has psychological impacts on those who have experienced it both directly and indirectly, which can damage already fragile relationships between the police and ethnic minority communities.

“We found a distinct difference in how community members and the police talked about the policing of individuals from ethnic minority communities, how risk is assessed in interactions with them and how Taser comes to be used.

“Its use appears situated in, and reflects, broader complex police-community relationships that need to be addressed in any effort to tackle ethnic and racial disparities."

 

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