Avon and Somerset police have been criticised by human rights campaigners after announcing plans to double the number of officers trained to use TASER stun guns.
Police plan to train an extra 150 officers to use the weapons, bringing the total number carrying them to 300.
The force claims the guns are a safe way to defuse violent incidents on the street and have led to a reduction in the number of officers injured.
Taser training criticised
Somerset East chief inspector Paul Richards said: “Tasers have proved a useful tactical option for officers faced with threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the offender.
“In many cases, the presence alone of a Taser can act as a deterrent to offenders, and so it is hoped that many future situations will be resolved without conflict.”
But human rights group Amnesty International says Tasers should only be used in very limited circumstances and having 300 officers carrying them suggests their use will be more widespread.
The group’s media director Mike Blakemore told #SITE_NAME#: “You have to question why having 300 officers trained to use Tasers is necessary, if they are only to be used in very limited circumstances. Does it mean that the force intends to use them in a wider range of circumstances?
“In the UK the police are very proud of policing by consent and we do not have a police force that is routinely armed.
“The wider rollout of Tasers means we are fundamentally changing the nature of UK policing by arming a wide variety of officers.”
A Taser works by firing two barbs which penetrate the skin and discharge 50,000 volts along two copper wires attached to the gun. It can also be held against a person and fired to temporarily incapacitate.
Despite the high voltage, police claim a Taser bolt is safe because of its low amperage. Police say it has no side effects and can even be used on people who have a pacemaker.
Yet Amnesty says the guns have been linked to the deaths of over 360 people in North America.
Mike Blakemore said: “Anyone who has been Tasered will tell you it is the most pain they have ever felt. It usually sends people to the floor, they lose control of their bodily functions and it is a horrible experience.
“We are now having officers walking around capable of deploying that amount of pain to someone. There is a risk that we are creating a divide between police and public.
“Police are effectively saying, ‘Do what I tell you or I will inflict this amount of pain upon you.’
“A simple YouTube search will show you the way these have been used in the US.”