Tasers: Officer Safety Tool or Threat to Public Safety? A Critical Analysis

This blog is a response to an article written by Sophie Khan ‘Tasers: Officer Safety Tool or Threat to Public Safety?’ . I will use critical discourse analysis (CDA) to draw out the underlying meaning of the author and demonstrate that her conclusions are not supported by fact.

CDA is methodology used by academics to study texts; this is not the place for a detailed analysis of the methodology, but an overview is necessary. CDA attempts to redress the balance of power between the power hegemony and the weak. I have a Foucaltian position on power and believe it ebbs and flows and that power hegemonies are not clear cut. For an overview of this methodology, see my Masters thesis.

I will start by outlining my position. I am an operational Police Sergeant, I am qualified as an ACPOS Public Order Tactical Advisor and an ACPOS Public Order Commander. I have undertaken the NPIA Taser course and have been the Bronze Commander for operations in which it was deployed.

It seems almost counter intuitive for me in a position of power to use CDA to challenge the position of someone challenging the hegemony, however, the author places herself firmly within a power hegemony,

    Sophie Khan is a solicitor-advocate, and head of Actions Against the Police at a leading firm in Surrey and London. She is also the director of the Police Action Centre (Khan, 2012)

The headline of the article ‘Taser: Officer Safety Tool or Threat to Public Safety?’ suggests a reasoned debate with arguments from both sides, this is reinforced by the sub-heading

Sophie Khan discusses the public safety implications of plans to introduce Taser stun guns for police

The word ‘discusses’ suggests that both sides of an argument are considered, it is reasonable to expect the article to include the perspective that public safety is increased by the use of Taser.

Weapons

Throughout the article, the author refers to Tasers as weapons,

  • (A)Tasers are as dangerous and fatal as a loaded gun
  • (B) due to the impression given to police officers that the Taser is an ‘officer safety tool’ rather than a ‘weapon
  • (C)Tasers should only be used by firearms officers, as they are a prohibited weapon under Firearms Act 1968 s5(1)

The word ‘weapon’ and the phrase ‘loaded gun‘ imply something used to maim or injure and present Taser as inherently dangerous. Statements B and C are misleading. All tactical options on the Force Continuum (see my blog here) from hand cuffs to firearms are officer safety tools and not weapons. The suggestion that because an article is prohibited under Section 5 of the Firearms Act they should only be used by firearms officers is wrong as incapacitant sprays such as CS or Pepper Spray are prohibited weapons. There is no legislative or policy statement that imposes such a restriction.

Sensationalism

The author uses sensationalism to present her argument throughout the artice.

  • Tasers have been linked to over 500 deaths in the United States – the author does not provide context to this in relation to the time frame and number of deaths as a proportion of Taser discharges, 500 per 1000 is highly significant, 500 per 1000000 is statistically insignificant.
  • The paragraph entitled ‘Cardiac Arrest’ presents details of a case involving Brian Loan (see press article here) and refers to it as a Taser related death, Smith (2009) argues Tasers have been implicated in (primarily in mass media), though exonerated (by coroners and medical officials) from, causing two deaths in the UK: Brian Loan, County Durham (2006) and Justin Petty, Bedford (2008)
  • in the paragraph entitled ‘Use of Tasers in the UK’ the author presents three examples and states that the use of Taser has breached ACPO Guidance. She doesn’t actually link the examples to the statement but the juxtaposition of the examples and statements is designed to make the connection in the readers mind.

Marginalisation

The author marginalises or ignores evidence that doesn’t support her position. In the paragraph entitled ‘Taser Related Deaths – Excited Delirium Syndrome’ the author discusses how a Canadian Court found that international medical professionals rejected the term and found that it was ‘used to cover up actual causes of death using Tasers and extreme restraint’ This bold statement is not referenced, however, a referenced statement agrees that the American College of Emergency Physicians agree that the condition exists, but because the ‘pathophysiology’ hasn’t been agreed, this is discounted.

The paragraph ‘Cardiac Arrest’ presents an article by Dr Zipes into links between cardiac arrest and taser, but concedes that it only makes the case that there is a link, it is notable that this study only looked at 8 cases, a insignificant number compared with the number of deaths the author attributes to Taser. Additionally no information is provided about pre-existing medical conditions or the presence of drugs/alcohol that may have been contributory factors. I have been unable to access the full article, which may address these points, but the abstract is here. The author overlooks the contradictory Defence Scientific Advisory Council Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons (Domill) report contained within the ACPO Guidance which states that

On the basis of the present study, it is considered unlikely that the electrical discharge from the M26 and X26 Taser devices will influence cardiac rhythmicity by a direct action on the heart of healthy individuals. ACPO (2008)

Strong Conclusion/Weak Evidence

In the paragraph ‘Use of Tasers Abroad’ the author concentrates on one example, Turner v Taser Inc, which ruled that Taser Inc should have given a warning about extended cycles of Taser. Interestingly, the court did not consider the behaviour of Turner or
rule on the justification of the use of Taser. But after citing this examples, the author states

This is a significant judgment as it sends a clear message to police forces that there are real risks associated with Tasers which can no longer be ignored

Conclusion

The author’s headline suggests a reasoned debate, but a critical analysis demonstrates that the argument is one sided, conclusions are drawn from weak evidence and evidence which challenges the author’s position is ignored or marginalised. In addition sensational statements without analysis are presented as supporting her argument.

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About PoliceGeek

I am a police sergeant with a strong interest in policing public order, both professionally and academically. I love ultra running and seeking new challenges
This entry was posted in Academia, Theories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tasers: Officer Safety Tool or Threat to Public Safety? A Critical Analysis

  1. Very interesting post. I’m starting soon as a special constable. An plan too blog about the whole training process. Any form of promotion would be massively appreciated!

  2. Pingback: Tasers: Officer Safety Tool or Threat to Public Safety? A Critical Analysis | Dairy Of A Modern Day Special Police Constable.

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