Tasers, a tool once deployed in only the most serious of circumstances, are beginning to make a more frequent appearance in London’s law enforcement activity.
With police in outer boroughs now more likely to resort to Taser use than their inner London counterparts, it’s clear that officers in more isolated areas are increasingly having to rely on Tasers.
The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Stephen Greenhalgh recently said of Tasers: “This is a tactic where we do not want a postcode lottery in the way it is deployed and the figures across London are highly variable.”
Yet recent figures have revealed that of the 12 London boroughs that have a higher than average firing rate, eight of those are in outer London.
So why are we seeing an increase in their use in some of our capital’s quieter communities?
At a recent meeting at City Hall, Chief Superintendent Mike Gallagher from the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Firearms Command cited smaller police officer numbers as being a key factor the higher firing rate in outer London boroughs.
Offering his expertise on the matter, Chief Superintendent Gallagher said fewer “resolution options” were available in these boroughs due to the “smaller number” of police officers.
Gallagher is correct, on average outer London boroughs have 171 fewer officers than inner London boroughs but that’s not the whole story. Increasingly we are seeing officers pulled into central London from outer London boroughs.
Earlier this year Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe admitted that “we have about 405 officers we withdraw from Croydon, Lewisham and Barnet everyday on average and that is quite a big drain on local policing.”
When you take that into consideration it’s not surprising to see that, though Taser armed officers are less likely to be deployed in outer London, they are more likely to use their firearm when called out because of lack of support.
Tasers have a vital role in protecting police officers when threatened with immediate violence and the public when the only other option is a loaded firearm. But they are a last resort and should remain so, deployed when peaceful resolutions and negotiated options have been exhausted.
With further government cuts on the cards and the Met Commissioner warning that police numbers will reduce what nobody wants to see is the police forced into using their Tasers more often because the officers needed for a peaceful resolution are no longer available.
There will always be varying levels of response available to the police and Tasers certainly have an important role. But we don’t want to see their use becoming an everyday occurrence as police ranks dwindle.
It is incredibly worrying that already a lack of support available for officers in Outer London is leading them to fire their weapon more often than those in Inner London. This cannot become an ongoing trend.
Joanne McCartney is Labour’s London Assembly policing spokesperson and Assembly Member for Enfield and Haringey. Follow her on Twitter: @JoanneMcCartney