West Midlands Police will double the number of officers armed with Taser following a major security review.
There are currently 643 Taser trained officers in the West Midlands including emergency response officers and all firearms officers.
That number is likely to double to around 1,440 over the next 18 months as 50 per cent of all Response officers − PCs who respond to 999 emergencies – will be approved to carry the device. Officers in other roles will also be trained including some neighbourhood beat bobbies.
The move is part of the force’s “round the clock efforts” to keep people safe and was recommended by security experts following a detailed analysis of local and national crime trends.
“We routinely review safety and security but the nature of the threat we all face has changed of late,” said Chief Constable Dave Thompson.
“We are seeing higher levels of violence and an increase in weapon use.
“Our officers need something more than their baton if they’re to protect people effectively.
“As part of our round the clock efforts to keep people safe, we will be significantly increasing the number of officers trained in the use of Taser.
“We’re still a long way off routinely arming PCs with Tasers but we have to stay one step ahead of those who would seek to cause harm.”
In 2016 WMP officers deployed Taser on 854 occasions but only fired them 162 times.
As well as an uplift in Taser numbers, the review recommended changes to its deployment across the West Midlands.
The new plans will see greater coverage overall and an enhanced capability around shopping centres and entertainment venues including sporting arenas, concert venues and nightspots popular with clubbers and diners.
The changes are preventative and are not based on specific threats to the West Midlands.
“I appreciate this may cause some people concern, but I’d like to reassure anyone worried about the changes that our use of Taser is tightly controlled,” added Chef Constable Thompson.
“Details of its use is routinely published on our website for all to see, and the publicly elected Police and Crime Commissioner holds me personally to account on behalf of the people of the West Midlands.
“As an enhanced measure, we are working with the Police and Crime Commissioner to put measures in place to increase public scrutiny of our use of force through special panels made up of local people.”
The increase in Taser-carrying officers will coincide with the introduction of the latest double-shot weapons which are capable of firing twice before requiring a reload. Single-shot Tasers are currently used by the force. The new system offers greater protection for officers using the device to keep people safe from harm.
A public consultation event held at police headquarters on Monday 24 July was attended by around 50 local people, councillors, medics and others.
The group were in support of the uplift and introduction of the latest weapons when the training programme was explained along with internal and public scrutiny which goes into the use of Taser.
The changes being implemented in the West Midlands are also backed by the Police and Crime Commissioner, and the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers.
Speaking about the changes, Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Lynnette Kelly, said: “I fully back the decision to increase the number of officers at West Midlands Police who carry and are trained to use Tasers.
“Following the recent attacks in London and Manchester this move is both sensible and proportionate.
“Here in the West Midlands our police regularly confront danger with little more than a trusty baton. This increase in the number of officers carrying Tasers will help address the balance, while not undermining the long standing British tradition of unarmed policing.
“Scrutiny of Taser usage is vital. We will ensure the footage recorded by body worn cameras during Taser incidents is monitored closely by panels made up of members of the public.
“We will maintain close oversight of Taser usage ensuring it is used proportionately and fairly.”
Tom Cuddeford, chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, said: “Our members are really clear, they want Taser. On their behalf, the Federation have lobbied long and hard on this matter both locally and nationally as part of our Protect the Protectors campaign.
“I welcome the Chief Constable’s announcement and support his desire to see the use of force subject to regular public scrutiny.
“The use of force is always a last resort, however, Taser gives frontline officers more options to bring matters to a swift and safe conclusion.
“Experience shows us that in most cases an officer merely drawing the device from its holster, activating its laser target or sounding the device’s electrical charge is enough to resolve the situation.
“The alternative is the use of a baton which can cause catastrophic injuries or drafting in firearms officers who use lethal force.”
The full cost of the increase and introduction of the double-shot device is now being calculated along with the timetable for the changes and the training schedule. Existing police budgets will pay for the uplift.
- Taser was introduced to WMP in 2005 − one year after the Home Office authorised their use following a 12 month trial across five police forces (not including WMP).
- 130 firearms officers were initially trained to use the device.
- WMP currently has 643 Taser trained officers including emergency response officers and all firearms officers. This number will increase to around 1,440.
- Training takes 18 hours with a mandatory six hour annual re-fresher.
- Strict national rules regulate the use of Taser.
- WMP uses X26 Tasers which are capable of firing a 50,000-volt shock to highly aggressive people who are considered to pose a high risk to themselves or other people including police officers.
- The battery operated X26 uses cartridges of compressed nitrogen to fire two small charged probes from the Taser up to 15 feet away.
- Each year the Home Office release statistics on the use of Taser for each force, including WMP.
- Each year WMP publish data on the use of Taser including the type of deployment and locations along with the age, gender and ethnicity of people who have been subject to its use.