The Met Police and Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) have been criticised for failing to give Londoners the chance to comment before increasing the number of officers carrying Tasers.
The weapons were previously carried only by firearms officers, however Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe extended their availability citing concerns that unarmed officers were waiting too long for back-up.
Sir Bernard has previously said delays endangered both his officers and Londoners.
As a result of the changes there are now two Taser equipped vehicles patrolling 24-hours a day in each of the 32 boroughs the Met polices, allowing them to reach call-outs quicker.
A new report published today by the London Assembly Police and Crime committee says the decision to increase Taser availability was taken with insufficient transparency and without allowing Londoners to have their say.
Assembly Members say the Met’s own figures show that both urgent assistance calls and violence against the person calls were on a downward trend when the decision was taken to expand Taser availability.
In future AMs want the Met to make a public case for any adoption or extension of weapons and for the MOPAC to demonstrate it has challenged the Met’s claims and plans before approving them.
The report warns that “Taser use disproportionally affects communities which already demonstrate lower confidence in the police” and says “black people represented half of those subjected to Taser deployment.”
To enable better monitoring of their use within communities, the committee wants the Met to publish both pan-London and borough specific data on Taser usage, including the age, ethnicity, and mental health status of those they are used against.
Addressing concerns that training standards could be reduced to ensure enough officers pass to meet the new deployment numbers, AMs want Scotland Yard to consult the independent Taser Scrutiny Board before making changes to training.
Committee Chair Joanne McCartney AM said: “Every day Police Officers put their lives at risk to keep London’s streets safe. It is right that they have the equipment they need to do that job as effectively and safely as possible.
“But the Met must also ensure the British traditions of policing by consent, and by a largely unarmed force, are not undermined by a rush to expand the deployment of weaponry without fully explaining why it is needed.
“The Met and the Deputy Mayor for Policing must ensure that the use of Taser and other less-lethal weapons is very closely monitored to guard against the dangers of ‘mission creep’ and any suggestion of its use as a coercive tool rather than a last resort to prevent injury to officers and the public.”
A Met spokesperson said the force was examining the Assembly’s recommendations “carefully” and welcomed “the close scrutiny provided by the committee on this sensitive issue.”
“We are particularly grateful for the acknowledgement of the high quality of training delivered by our instructors and the recognition that it is in fact amongst the best in the world.”
The spokesperson said the force had “carefully considered issues of public and officer safety in its decision to make Tasers available to more officers” and that its “priority at all times is the safety and protection of the public.”
They added: “We recognise the importance of public engagement and accept the need for a more consistent public engagement framework. As such we will be launching a website in the near future, which will aim to provide data around the use of Taser and community impact assessments on a regular basis.
“An MPS oversight group, known as the Taser Reference Group (TRG), has been established. There is community representation with input from academics, mental health, and law professionals, MOPAC and Amnesty International.
“We are committed to engaging with the oversight group who have a responsibility contained within their terms of reference to provide independent scrutiny into our Taser policy and procedures.”
A spokesperson for MOPAC said: ‘We welcome the committee’s findings that the training of officers are among the best in the world. All the evidence shows that tasers prevent injury in violent incidents. We will continue to provide robust oversight over their use in the capital.”