Assembly demands transparency over expansion of police weaponry

15 October 2013

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Mayor of London must make the case for increasing the number and range of weapons used to police London, a new report from the London Assembly says.

TASER x26 - photo by Jason Bain

The report by the Police and Crime Committee, Arming the Met: The Deployment of less-lethal weapons in London [1], sets out a series of steps that should be taken by Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) before changes are made to the availability or range of less lethal weapons on the capital’s streets.

The Committee concluded that the 2012 decision to nearly triple the number of MPS officers trained to use Taser and deploy increased numbers of the Tasers failed to adequately explain why the Met felt more weapons are needed or properly consult the public about the deployment.

Taser use in London increased by 9 per cent in the two years before the decision was taken to expand their availability. During the same period, usage in the rest of England and Wales increased by more than two and a half times [2].

The report also warned against tampering with the rigorous training course police officers undergo to qualify to use Taser in an attempt to reduce the current 20 per cent of officers who fail the course.

Chair of the Police and Crime Committee 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.”

The Committee’s recommendations are:

  • Before decisions to expand the availability of less –lethal weapons are made the MPS and MOPAC should set out: why additional force is required, how the specific changes requested to less-lethal weapons deployment would meet that need, why MOPAC supports the expansion, and how the MPS and MOPAC intend to engage the public on changes. 
  • Data on pan-London and borough Taser use should be published quarterly including breakdowns of the age, ethnicity, and mental health status of people who have had TASER deployed against them.
  • The MPS should publish Community Impact Assessments on Taser use in each borough on at least an annual basis. 
  • The MPS’s new Taser Scrutiny Board should examine Taser post-incident reporting procedures, particularly how victim and witness statements, and camera technology, might make accounts more robust. 
  • The MPS should refer to the Taser Scrutiny Board any changes it plans to make to the Taser Training Course before they are put in place to allow the Board to evaluate their potential impact and ensure standards are not lowered.

Notes for Editors:

  1. Arming the Met: The deployment of less-lethal weapons in London
  2. Home Office Police use of TASER statistics, England and Wales, 2009 to 2011
  3. The Police and Crime Committee is responsible for examining the activities of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and investigating matters it considers to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in London.
  4. The Police and Crime Committee is established under s32 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
  5. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.