English cops rarely draw their guns, but they’re pretty trigger-happy with tasers

A picture of restraint.
A picture of restraint.
Image: Reuters/Paul Hackett
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Fewer than 6,000 police officers across the whole of England and Wales (population 57 million) are authorized to carry guns. According to the latest statistics, published today, those cops were called to nearly 15,000 incidents in the year to March 2014. The number of cases when they actually fired their guns? Two. (Down from three the previous year.)

That sort of stat is tempting to compare with more trigger-happy police forces—cops used their firearms in 81 incidents in New York City alone in 2013, the latest data available (pdf). Of course, the bulk of New York’s 22,000 police officers carry guns. In short, more guns lead to more shootings.

And the English and Welsh coppers have other ways of subduing suspects. Taser use by police is on the rise:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) recently published a review addressing the rise in taser use (pdf), fretting that it is becoming ”a default choice where other tactical options, including communication, could be effective.”

Of major concern is the use of “drive-stun” mode, in which a taser is applied directly to the body instead of firing a cartridge from a distance.

A taser in drive-stun mode doesn’t incapacitate a victim but is used “purely a means of pain compliance,” the IPCC says. “Yet in several of the cases we reviewed, where it was used for the purpose of gaining compliance, it in fact had the opposite effect, stimulating further resistance.”

Some are now campaigning for tasers to be limited only to specially-trained officers—much like the select few who are authorized to carry firearms.