* MCT photo. Local firearms officers will carry Tasers on patrol starting this week.
* MCT photo. Local firearms officers will carry Tasers on patrol starting this week.
WEDNESDAY, APR. 21: The Bermuda Police Service (BPS) is announcing the introduction of TASER as a less-lethal use of force option in the list of approved defensive weapons being carried by police officers.

"TASER" is the manufacturer's name for an Electronic Control Device (ECD) that is widely used by law enforcement agencies across the world as a less-lethal option of defensive force. The TASER works by firing two small, dart-like electrodes at its target using nitrogen charges when the trigger is pulled. The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent removal once they are in place, and they remain attached to the main unit by conductive wire. The TASER releases a 5 second burst of electric charge at about 2,000 volts. The charge causes Neuromuscular Incapacitation by stimulating the sensory and motor nerves to the point where they are temporarily paralysed.

In simpler terms, the subject is unable to control major muscle movement and cannot move whenever the electric charge is being applied. TASER is not dependent on pain and is effective on subjects with a high level of pain tolerance. This makes the device safer and more effective than the use of Captor incapacitant spray or a strike from the ASP baton, both of which require the subject to comply with the sensation of pain.

The device has built-in accountability measures to determine when and by whom it was deployed, and it is fitted with a camera that records the entire incident from the moment the device is drawn by the officer.

The most recent US report on Use of Force, available on the company's website, paints a very clear picture on the effectiveness of the device, compared to other Use of Force options:

* Discharge of firearms: 500 deaths & 500 serious injuries per 1000

* Baton strikes: 780 serious injuries per 1000

* Use of TASER: 2 serious injuries per 1000

In nearly every police agency that has introduced the device significant reductions have been reported in the number of injuries sustained by police officers, as well as by persons being arrested. In a 2009 study in the UK, TASER devices were drawn over 600 times, but only fired 93 times: meaning that 85% of the time the mere presentation of the weapon was enough to gain compliance from the subject.

We have examined significant research conducted in the US, Canada and the UK before taking the decision to introduce TASER. The BPS is satisfied, based on all the research, that the TASER device is safe. I believe we are introducing it at the appropriate time, and that it is proportionate to the risks that exist on the street. The overriding principle of police operations is the protection of life - and that even includes violent subjects that would try to attack us. TASER puts another tool on the police officer's belt and gives him or her another option to consider before having to use a firearm against a threat.

Given the increase in armed operations that we are conducting, I am ensuring that we take all steps possible to make the use of police firearms a last resort, and only when it is absolutely necessary. I believe the introduction of the TASER device could potentially save the life of a person who might otherwise force a firearms confrontation with an armed police officer.

The purchase and training of the device has been delivered at a cost of about $150K. The funds were made available from the 2009/10 budget after approval to purchase was granted by Minister Burch, and approval to carry the device was granted by His Excellency the Governor following requests from the BPS last year.

The TASER will be out on patrol this week, and will be carried by all firearms officers. Additional officers will be issued with the device depending on the nature of their duties, starting with the Police Support Unit. That translates to about 1 officer in 3 on patrol will be armed with TASER. We will be monitoring the use and effectiveness of the device regularly to determine whether wider distribution is required.