Rights groups quit police body over stun gun use against BAME people | UK news

A number of civil society organisations have quit the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Taser advisory group in protest, claiming no meaningful action is being taken to address the disproportionate use of stun guns against BAME people.

Use of the weapons rose by 39% last year as growing numbers of police officers were equipped with them. But a new analysis of Home Office figures found black people in England and Wales were almost eight times more likely to have stun guns used against them by police than white people.

In a joint resignation letter to the NPCC, the human rights groups Liberty, Inquest, StopWatch and the Open Society, and the policing expert Dr Mike Shiner said that a decision announced privately in February to absorb a planned assessment of the disproportionate impact of the use of stun guns on minority ethnic people into an officer safety review demonstrated that concerns were not being taken seriously.

“We are increasingly concerned that the [National Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group (NTSAG)] is now regularly sidestepped, while the group’s existence is relied on to legitimise current use of Taser,” the letter, sent on 24 March, said.

“This is not something we can support … Police representatives have not valued our expertise, treated the issues we have raised with the level of seriousness they warrant, followed through on commitments made to the NTSAG, or constituted the group to engender meaningful consultation. Accordingly, we can no longer continue as members.”

The organisations said the group was not consulted about the adoption of stun guns by thousands more officers last year and that an eventual offer “to discuss the potential for unconscious bias training” demonstrated a lack of urgency and mischaracterised an issue that required police policies, practices and organisational drivers to be thoroughly examined.

“We joined the group because we thought it would help ensure that Taser [use] is subject to meaningful scrutiny and appropriate safeguards, but it became clear that it is not fulfilling this role,” said Shiner, an associate professor at LSE’s department of social policy.

“Where commitments were made they did not translate into meaningful action and it felt like delay, delay, delay. The NPCC has effectively sidelined the group and is using it for decorative purposes, creating a false impression of consultation and engagement.”

He added: “We’re at a dangerous moment when police powers are being increased without corresponding increases in scrutiny and accountability. The rollout of Taser represents a significant escalation in the weaponisation of the police and there is a real danger that we’re sleepwalking into military-style policing.”

Clare Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, said: “Tasers can and do kill. The rising use of these weapons is alarming and there are serious concerns over how disproportionately they are used against people of colour.

“We have seen time and again that stronger, discretionary police powers often result in uneven policing with some communities feeling the brunt of these more than others.”

A similar working group, the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, was scrapped after the Home Office withdrew from consultations with experts and then lifted all the conditions governing the use of section 60 powers in August.

Last month, the Home Office announced that police forces would receive a further £6.7m to purchase more than 8,000 new stun guns after £10m in ringfenced funding was provided in September.

Nearly a fifth of 157,000 officers are trained to use the weapons, but fears they damage the principle of policing by consent are growing. Senior police figures have called for all officers to be allowed to carry them on patrol.

Of the 22,059 occasions stun guns were used in 2018-19, 4,381 of the incidents involved black people, with discharges in 443 cases. White people were subject to the use of stun guns by police in 14,562 cases, with 1,800 discharges. Using 2011 census data, Shiner’s analysis shows black people are 7.7 times more likely to have the weapons used against them.

Serious questions have been raised over the police’s role in the deaths of a number of people after having stun guns used on them, including the former footballer Dalian Atkinson, 48, 34-year-old Adrian McDonald, 30-year-old Marc Cole, and 23-year-old Jordan Begley.

The NPCC lead for less lethal weapons, the deputy assistant commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, said: “We have had a good relationship with [NTSAG]. The group is independent of policing with an independent chair who is also a valued member of the police national less lethal weapon working group.

“The group was formed to provide expertise, critical appraisal and advice to police on the use of Taser. As the national lead I have always valued the constructive discussions that we have had and the invaluable insight provided which has influenced policy decisions.

“It is accepted by all parties that sometimes advisory groups and police will disagree on points. I will be replying to the resigning members privately.”

Source link