* MCT photo. Police officers have welcomed the addition of Taser stun guns.
* MCT photo. Police officers have welcomed the addition of Taser stun guns.
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Rank and file police officers have welcomed the addition of Taser stun guns as an 'extra tool' in their arsenal.

Public safety minister Colonel David Burch announced in the Senate this week that some officers would soon be equipped with Tasers.

The move is part of a series of measures to help deal with escalating gang violence in Bermuda.

It is unlikely, however, to have any impact on gun crime. And the Bermuda Police Service is still understood to be seeking to bolster its firearms response capability.

Frontline officers told us they welcomed the move to bring in Tasers.

"Anything that makes us safer is a bonus. It is a nice piece of equipment to have in your arsenal to stop things escalating but it is not something that I think you will see used on a regular basis," said one.

"It's certainly not going to solve gun violence but it does give you a degree of extra confidence dealing with anti-social behaviour."

The electronic stun guns are most likely to be used in public order stand-offs as an alternative to pepper spray or a baton.

If someone is wielding a machete or a baseball bat, they could be safely disarmed with a Taser.

The officer said the stun guns would not be particularly useful against a criminal armed with a firearm.

He said they were unlikely to be widely used, but could be helpful in certain situations.

"If you've got a stand-off or a situation where someone is armed with a baseball bat, it could be very useful in that kind of situation."

Controversial

Tasers, though controversial in some countries, are actually no more lethal than a baton or pepper spray, said the officer.

They are likely to be used, at least initially, by firearms trained officers and senior officers only.

Colonel Burch, in his statement to the Senate on Tuesday, said the Tasers would prevent cops from having to resort to lethal force in some situations.

"There is a significant gap in the available range of less-lethal weapons that result in the Service being ill-equipped to deal with certain types of incidents. This gap could result in an officer justifiably shooting an individual with a firearm due to the unavailability of a suitable alternative option."

Defence lawyer and Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Mark Pettingill questioned how useful a tool the Taser would be.

"I'm encouraged by some of the preventative steps taken by Government and police to stop crime before it starts. Tasers? I'm a bit more dubious.

"I don't know if you could look back and point to too many incidents where they would have been used or where they might have saved the life of a police officer."

He added that their use would need to be strictly regulated.

"This is a very severe measure to be used when there is a serious threat to the officer. We have to be sure that we're not resorting to it every time a suspect is being a bit difficult. Officers should still have the techniques to subdue and arrest people without injuring them."

Defence lawyer Larry Scott said he did not like the idea of police officers using Tasers.

He added: "I believe we have to quiet down our society at the moment from the violence we have been experiencing.

"If the authorities use violence this encourages the use of violence by others. Violence begets violence and society will become more violent as a result."

Q & A on Tasers


What is a Taser?

A Taser is an electronic stun-gun that looks like a pistol and can be used by police to subdue a suspect.

How does it work?

The battery-powered gun shoots darts, which trail electric cable back to the gun. When the darts hit their target a five-second 50,000-volt charge is released down the cable incapacitating the suspect and allowing police to gain control of the situation.

When would they be used?

The Taser gun can be used to subdue a suspect at close range where the police officer or anyone else is considered to be in physical danger. They have a range of 6.4m.

Are they safe?

There are dangers associated with the use of Tasers, particularly on suspects with a history of heart trouble, and they have been blamed for a number of deaths in the U.S. and Canada. They are generally believed to be fairly safe.

Advocates of their use argue that they are obviously less dangerous than a firearm and prevent police from having to use lethal force in some situations. Despite the controversy surrounding Tasers some officers argue that they are actually less dangerous than a standard-issue police baton.

Are they controversial in other countries?

Critics claim trigger-happy cops use them too quickly and they have become a symbol of police brutality in some jurisdictions.

Amnesty International has expressed concerns about the excessive use of Tasers by police. There is a movement against the excessive use of stun guns in the U.K., particularly after an officer was accused last year of shooting one at a ten-year-old girl.

Who monitors how they are used?

The guns are fitted with microchips and video cameras to record when, where and how they are used and to guard against inappropriate or over use. Officers are also accountable to a review board any time they use force on a suspect.

Will all cops get them?

Initially the plan is for the Firearms Unit only to be equipped with Tasers. Colonel Burch said further officers would ultimately be trained in their use.

Junior officers involved in high-risk warrants and stop and search deployments in gang areas are also likely to be trained and equipped with Tasers but it is unlikely that all police officers will get them.

BPS commissioner Michael DeSilva refused to comment yesterday but said there would be a press conference on the issue 'in due course'.