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Police Scotland issuing more Tasers to officers is a 'sticking plaster' response to rising violence

Read what I have to say in my latest Scotsman column, published 6th December:

It came as a shock when a recent survey of Scottish police officers found that a sizeable number of them wished to be issued with firearms – or at least have ready access to them.

It was a small survey – a few hundred members of staff out of many thousands – but even so, it spoke to a new mood. Traditionally, Scottish officers have not wanted to be routinely armed, because they recognise that such a change might raise the stakes and persuade more criminals to also arm themselves.

Now we learn that many more officers are to be issued with Tasers, ‘less than lethal’ weapons which are designed to stun with a high-voltage electric shock. Previously only carried by firearms officers, they obviously offer a safer option than firearms and can avoid desperate physical struggles that often result in serious injury.

But the policy is not without its potential pitfalls. The plain truth is that the more Tasers that there are, the more they will be used and the more accidents there will be – it’s simply inevitable!

So what has persuaded police chiefs to take this risky step? It is very simple, and the same reason underlies the survey responses from officers about firearms.

The number of assaults on them has risen sharply as has the level of aggression as they go about their daily duties.

And it’s not just the police – health service staff are also experiencing the same trend. From paramedics to Accident & Emergency staff in hospitals, and even receptionists at GPs surgeries, they all report a rise in aggression.

Covid has played a part in this, as the long passage of the pandemic has taken its toll. Fear, isolation, fatigue and financial pressures have raised the stress levels of many people to boiling point.

Thankfully the raised levels of violence have not been reflected in homicide rates, at least not yet. In 2020, there were 58 murders in Scotland – the lowest figure in about 40 years.

This was good news, but beneath the headline lies the same familiar picture. Some 83 per cent of the victims and 95 per cent of the culprits are young men – usually from the same social class – killing each other with knives.

But there is another thread running through the rise in aggression – the issue of mental health. Again, the Covid pandemic has played its part bringing new pressures onto an old problem.

The long-term chronic inadequacy of our mental health services has combined with the consequential effects of Covid to bring our front-line services into increasing contact with people suffering from severe mental health disturbance.

Sometimes it is drug or alcohol induced, and such episodes can be frightening and dangerous to all concerned. Dealing with people suffering such psychotic episodes is a highly specialised skill.

Tasers can be effective in subduing extreme violence and preventing more serious injury.

But we should not deceive ourselves – they are a ‘sticking plaster’ response to a much bigger problem.

The long-term solution to increased levels of violence lies in deeper social change and much greater investment in our mental health services.

The full article is also available by clicking here.

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