Tasers used 63 times since weapons first introduced

Former RCIPS Inspector Ian Brellisford displays an RCIPS-issue Taser stun weapon in January 2013, at the time they were introduced for officers’ use. - Photo: Brent Fuller

Police have used Taser stun guns 63 times and fired them at suspects on 19 different occasions since the weapons were first introduced in February 2013, according to information from an open records request.

The weapons, which fire two wires carrying 50,000-volt shocks at targets, incapacitating them briefly, are carried by multiple officers, primarily but not exclusively in the armed units.

Intended for use in situations where officers are faced with violence or the threat of violence, Tasers carry mounted video cameras. Every usage is recorded and an incident report filed along with the footage, whether the stun gun is fired or not.

The most frequent deployment of the device by Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers is the use of the red-dot laser sight to aim the Taser at a subject.

On 33 occasions, more than half of the recorded uses of Tasers by police, the “red-dot” has been enough to defuse the situation without the weapon being fired.

Despite a few recent flash points, including an incident in July when officers disarmed a man carrying a handgun, police use of Tasers in the Cayman Islands has declined over the years.

Officers used their Tasers 23 times in 2013, firing them six times. In 2014, Tasers were deployed 24 times and fired at suspects seven times. That number dropped markedly to 11 usages and four “full deployments” in 2015. Up to April this year, officers had used their Tasers on five occasions, firing them at suspects twice, according to the data supplied last month after an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Cayman Compass is aware of at least two other occasions when officers have fired Tasers since April, when the records end.

Among the flash points involving the weapons since they were introduced was an incident in which two officers were charged with common assault amid allegations they used excessive force by deploying the Taser on a suspect after a car chase.

In another incident in June, not included in the data supplied, a shaky camera-phone video was circulated online of officers using the weapon on a man in front of a crowd of onlookers in George Town, prompting public debate about the use of Tasers. Police defended the officer’s actions in that incident, saying the suspect was carrying a modified flare gun and was resisting arrest. The suspect pulled the probes from his body and was Tased a second time, according to police.

The Compass asked for data on all Taser use, as well as the incident reports and police video footage on all occasions when the weapons were actually fired. The RCIPS has declined to release the videos or the reports, citing ongoing criminal investigations in some cases and privacy concerns and a lack of resources to process the Freedom of Information request in others. The decision is under appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Tasers are considered a non-lethal alternative to using firearms in clashes with potentially violent offenders.

The human rights group Amnesty International claims that more than 300 people in the U.S. and Canada have died after being shocked with the stun guns, though supporters of the use of stun guns suggest this is usually attributable to pre-existing health conditions.

Last month, former English Premier League footballer Dalian Atkinson died after being shot by a Taser by police responding to an incident in Telford, England, sparking new debate about the weapons.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, a charity that supports families bereaved by deaths in custody, told the Independent newspaper, “There is still a lot of disquiet about the risks, particularly to people who have mental health problems or who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol or who have heart conditions. It’s something that is being increasingly used and is potentially fatal.

“Police use of weapons, be it Taser or firearms, should always be the last resort. If you’ve got weapons, the danger is that you rely on them and they become your first resort.”

In April, the British Home Office released figures showing that police officers across the U.K. had used Tasers 10,329 times in 2015, firing them at suspects on 1,921 occasions, 18.5 percent, compared with Cayman officers, who fired Tasers on 30 percent of the occasions they used the weapons.