Musings and Snippets from a recently retired JP. I served for 31 years, mostly in west London. I was Chairman of my Bench for some years, and a member of the National Bench Chairmen's Forum All cases are based on real ones, but anonymised and composited. All opinions are those of one or more individuals. JPs swear to enforce the law of the land, whether or not they approve of it. Nothing on here constitutes legal advice.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
No Comment - Well, Hardly Any..
This case, albeit all we have is a Daily Mail report, will be dealt with impartially by the usual processes, so we have nothing to add, other than profound relief that it was only a Taser, rather then a Glock 9 mm automatic.
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Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing a certain police officers blog try and defend this alleged action has being perfectly reasonable behaviour in the circumstances...............ReplyDelete
Even allowing for the "Daily Mail factor" it does seem as if a serious error of judgement may have occurred here. I'm not at all sure of the correct procedure, but shouldn't an arresting officer give some form of warning before using any sort of force like this?
Of course, we don't know the behaviour of the alleged victim, as the aforesaid newspaper is unlikely to have reported the incident impartially. Perhaps there was an element of indignation at being stopped by the officer, which then led to the apparent error of judgement by the officer concerned.
The Police themselves seem to have admitted themselves that they screwed up and have referred their own actions to the Police Complaints Commission.Delete
Having lost a few comrades up in Manchester recently, it's entirely possible that no one was willing to take any chances getting close to someone possibly carrying a sword.
And if he'd been carrying a chair leg in a shopping bag...ReplyDelete
It's so easy to confuse a white stick with a Samurai sword. The officer certainly needed a white stick himself it he can't see the difference. This is another reason for not arming our police.ReplyDelete
As all I have to go on is what's been publicly reported, which is almost certainly nothing like the whole truth, I suspect there is far more to this than meets the eye. I'm not excusing the actions of the police officer, but clearly he would have been more acutely aware of the possibility of meeting an armed man than under normal circumstances. Adrenaline has an unhappy way of clouding rational judgement. The victim unwittingly, perhaps, added to the officers anxiety by failing to stop when asked, for whatever reason (maybe he didn't hear the officer or perhaps he just ignored him). The combination of the two seems to have led to a gross error of judgement that resulted in the use of excessive force. The good news is that the consequences of this action could have been far worse (tasers are far from 100% non-lethal, especially when used on people in ill-health).ReplyDelete
I guess it's easy to say that the officer should have seen the blind man's white stick for what it was, but we don't know how good the light was or what the officers sight line was. He was expecting to find a man armed with a Samurai sword, and it seems that's what he must have believed he saw at the time.
The really big question for me is, why did the officer use a taser on someone who was, apparently, posing no actual threat to the officer or others? Even if this man had been walking down the street carrying a sword, would it have been reasonable to use a taser on him in this way when there was no indication of him showing aggression?
I can understand the use of force, tasers or whatever when there is a reasonable likelihood of someone getting hurt unless such force is used, but from I've read so far it seems as if this wasn't the case here. It is certainly another strong point in favour of not routinely arming police officers.
Maybe the idiots who were a bit too quick off the mark with their mobile phones and planted in the minds of the Police the erroneous belief that the victim was carrying a Samurai sword should bear their share of the blame too?ReplyDelete
As for the Police, did they not ask themselves just how credible the reports they were getting were? It seems that once the idea was planted - no matter how bizarre - no contrary evidence was going to change their minds. Perhaps we should christen this 'Stockwell syndrome'.
In fact the reports suggest there really was a man with a Samurai sword abroad in Chorley. One was arrested shortly afterwards. Untasered.Delete
Another point is that even if the police had called on him to halt, how would he have known it was addresses to him; A 61 year old blind man would probably assume they were after someone else.ReplyDelete
I have four of these swords, I have yet to confuse one with a length of curtain rail.
Here's betting there is no criminal charge in the assault class.ReplyDelete
I would expect that you are right. There is no assault here the officer has powers under S.117 and S.24 of PACE to use reasonable force in the effecting of an arrest of anyone he is suspicious might be committing, have committed or about to commit and offence. There are also powers open to everyone (including police officers) to prevent crime, Breaches of the peace and to affect the lawful apprehension as well as in self defence of yourself and others. These powers do allow us (everyone) to strike before we are struck and rely on the perception of the person using the force (reasonable or otherwise) not on the those apparent in the 'cold light of day'.Delete
It is an unfortunate incident and a mistake appears to have been made given an extremely rare set of co-incident factors. The police should probably compensate the victim but that should be the end of it.
There are few points that seem to be going missed.ReplyDelete
1st and most importantly the 61 year old pensioner victim is unharmed. I've been tasered. It hurts whilst the current is active but stops straight afterwards and leaves no after effects. There are a couple of anecdotal and somewhat dubious reports of deaths in the millions of deployments but even these were with older versions of Taser that deliver the current in a greatly different manner. The only injury even the victim in this case was reporting was from the handcuffs. Even if you assume the number in the Daily Mail are accurate you'll note that Taser has been used many times most of which don't even merit a news report. Yes it was a mistake and yes he deserves to be compensated but that should be the end of it same as any other mistake that we, the police, make.
2nd If the officer had only had a baton or CS the after effects could have been much worse!
3rd The incident is being investigated and if the officer has acted incorrectly then he will be disciplined. That is the only reason that there is no action being taken against him at present. It should however be noted that the officer was approaching what he believed to be a sword carrying criminal and appears to have been doing so alone.
4th People with Samurai swords are worryingly common. A Taser enables officers to detain them without injury to any person.
5th Firearms incidents are common. I deal with about 1 or 2 a fortnight. Most of these result in a "no trace" as the people involved have long since gone by the time suitably equipped officers arrive. If you're a criminal with access to firearms it is the best way to avoid arrest to carry it. The current policy does little to deter those with such access. As has been seen in many occasions when one such person does go off the rails officers are unable to stop them. There have been lots of deaths and even more serious injuries brought about by lack of access to this equipment.
6th I've had CS on my belt for 11 years and used it once. Mostly because it is not a very useful tool. When I was 17 (and a soldier) they gave me a fully automatic Assault rifle and I never shot anyone.
"1st and most importantly the 61 year old pensioner victim is unharmed. I've been tasered. It hurts whilst the current is active but stops straight afterwards and leaves no after effects."Delete
Unharmed physically, perhaps, but this is a 61-year-old citizen, sufficiently visually impaired to be carrying a white stick, who was so far as we currently know going about his lawful business. What about the effect on his state of mind? Has his independence been impaired? Will he still feel comfortable in walking about the streets of Chorley in the expectation of being unmolested, or will he be fearful?
" 2nd If the officer had only had a baton or CS the after effects could have been much worse!"
If the individual had not been tasered, there would have been no effects at all.
In a previous life, part of my job was to look at accidents at work with a view to identifying causes and thus to prevent repetitions. From this I know two truths:
(i) accidents may have a single immediate or proximate cause, but this is almost invariably at the end of a chain of causality presenting multiple opportunities for the accident to have been prevented;
(ii) the outcome of the proximate cause of an accident is usually a matter of pure chance.
Starting from the point that the 61 year old really was no more than an innocent bystander, it is trite to say that he should not have been tasered. Clearly, had the officer in question not discharged his weapon, the victim would not have been tasered but it is equally trite to say that therefore the blame must be with the officer alone. We simply do not have anywhere near enough reliable information to make the judgement inherent in that statement.
For that reason I offer no criticism of the individual officer, but I do hazard the opinion that there has been a fairly serious failure of the system which led up to the deployment of the taser, and the fact that the victim may have suffered no lasting physical harm is a matter of chance. He might, to give but one example, have suffered a serious head injury when he fell to the ground.
We have come a long way since Peel's conception of the Police officer as a citizen in uniform. Police officers are trusted in many ways which the ordinary citizen is not, and one of these ways is that in the course of their duties they have access to, and may under appropriate circumstances lawfully use, weapons of varying degrees of capacity for harm, whose mere possession by the ordinary citizen is prohibited by law.
Society reposes this trust in Police officers because it is in society's interests for the Police to have the means necessary for them to undertake their core duties of keeping the peace, preventing crime and detecting its perpetrators.
One of the tasks the Police face is of retaining this trust. To do this, each and every individual officer must show, in every word or deed, that they recognise the existence of this trust, and that they understand it and respect it. This is an exacting and demanding requirement, but it is one in which the "bit of a cock-up, but no harm done: nothing more to say" approach has no place whatever.
You're right. What can we do to totally eliminate all risk, o wise one?Delete
How well does your crystal ball work? Mine is a bit cloudy these days. My three suggestions are:Delete
1. Stop taking the piss.
2. Learn from things that have gone wrong in the past.
3. In order to enable 2, stop denying that things have gone wrong in the past.
That's so vague as to be useless! I mean, brilliant!Delete
Anonymous20 October 2012 20:47Delete
I can't disagree with anything that you've said. I will however point out that accidents will to continue to happen no matter what we do. Yes we should do what we reasonably can to avoid them but also bear in mind that the costs of doing so should not outweigh the benefits.
For instance in this case there are a number of people saying that we shouldn't be allowed to carry taser as a result of this. That will obviously prevent a similar incident from happening again.
The cost of doing this might well mean more people (officers and other citizens alike) get stabbed, killed, hit with batons, Sprayed with CS gas etc.
You therefore have to way up the likelihood and impact of the 2 possible options and decide which is better.
I for one am on the side of routine arming.
Well worth bearing in mind that the taser risk assessment assumes that the person being tasered is in reasonable health (a fair assumption, as to pose a violent threat pretty much presupposes that the individual is fairly healthy).ReplyDelete
If you look at the effect of tasers on those who are already in poor health, then the figures are far, far, less reassuring. Someone who's had a couple of strokes, is partially sighted and has other health problems would have been be at far greater risk of suffering death or serious injury from a taser. Thankfully, that was not the case here, but that is just pure luck.
What I'd like to see, in due course, is the rationale for using a taser in this incident. I doubt we'll get this from any press reports though...............
The Taser risk assessment makes no such assumption. In fact the training goes on at some length about the medical implications and how many people that will warrant the use of the device will be suffering from mental or medical issues. It is still better than any available alternative.Delete
Tasers are lethal weapons that can and do kill people. Many of the police officers I encounter today I would hesitate to allow them use of a Taser.ReplyDelete
Rather than simply reply pantomime style "Oh no they don't" I've tried to find some actual facts. Unsurprisingly it is hard to find anything unbiased. For example Amnesty international claim 334 "Taser related deaths" between 2001 and 2008 while Taser's own website claims none in "Over 2,000,000 deployments". One of the most compelling studies I found was here from US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:Delete
Where 99.75% of actual deployments resulted in "No or mild injury."
The remaining 0.25% were made up from 2 intracranial injuries from falls and one from rhabdomyolysis (I don't know what this is). It also said there were 2 deaths but that neither were attributed to direct or casual links to the Taser.
In short I'm not saying that they are risk free there is no such thing. Simply that the risks are far less that any alternative. Baton strikes,CS, or even open handed techniques all have significantly more risks to the person involved yet alone the officer.
What is needed is proper training about the medical implications of Taser deployment and how it fits in with other tactical options.
As someone who worked closely with people developing non-lethal weapons, I think you'll find that all the published statistics on taser use are skewed to some degree. The taser manufacturers and law enforcement agencies work on the presumption that anyone likely to be tasered will be in reasonably good health, so they tend to disregard the risks to those with pre-existing significant health problems. As mentioned above, this is a reasonable assumption, IF you can be sure that you're only ever going to use a taser on a healthy person.Delete
Once you open up the risk assessment to include those, like the victim in this case, that are already in poor health then things get far more risky. Again, as said above, this chap was very lucky to get away without lasting ill effects.
Whether or not proper training in the medical implications of using a taser would have helped in this case is debatable, as it seems the officer believed he was dealing with a man armed with a sword, who he assumed, rightly or wrongly, to be in good enough health to withstand the effects of a taser.
Could this incident have been prevented? Who knows, maybe, I guess we'll find out once the investigation is complete. I strongly suspect that we'll find that it was just "one of those things", and that it was the result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances.