Taser

Taser

PJThis blog is a difficult one: when my name was read out at the Mind Awards, one of the loudest ‘whoops’ in the room came from Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive of Rethink.  He was kind enough to congratulate me afterwards and from the leader of one of our country’s major mental health charities, it is not without real significance for me.  However, that he has been kind enough to signal he’s looking forward to this blog which I’ve indicated in advance will disagree with him, shows his willingness to debate and engage. << This is precisely  how we will improve the debate about mental health and the role of the police, so it is in that spirit that I write this blog to Paul.

BACKGROUND

Most broadsheet newspapers have covered remarks from Paul Jenkins about the use of Taser on vulnerable people, suffering from mental ill-health.  Paul is quoted as saying:

“It is completely inappropriate for police to use a Taser gun on someone who is threatening self-harm, and we are very concerned to hear that this is happening in some police forces.  If someone is clearly in great mental distress, having a Taser gun used on them will seriously exacerbate their condition. People who take anti-psychotic medication may also be vulnerable to suffering a fatal injury if Tasered, as some medications greatly weaken the heart.  If police are called out to a situation where someone has threatened to self-harm, there are other steps they can take without needing to resort to extreme force.  Firstly, it is extremely important to try to talk to the person who is in distress, and police should consider bringing a properly trained crisis negotiator to help with this.  They should also call an ambulance and speak to a mental health crisis team, who are better placed to act in a mental health crisis and who will be able to provide crucial advice and support in this situation.”

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, also said: “Tasers are extreme and controversial weapons that we believe should only be used as a last resort by police.  Tasers can cause extreme distress so to use them on people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, and already displaying signs of distress, can make things even more traumatic.  We urge police to ensure they are equipped with the tools they need to make difficult decisions quickly. A better understanding of mental health problems would allow police to recognise those experiencing a mental health crisis, and de-escalate a situation before resorting to weapons such as tasers.  There is no substitute for comprehensive mental health training.”

TaserFirstly, in the continuum of force available to the police, Taser is never going to be the last resort, although usually close to it. Earlier this month, my team took a 999 call from the Ambulance Service regarding a mental health service user and the very first thing I did was instruct taser officers and a sergeant to the scene.  Why?  Because 999 services frequently deal with this particular man and he has a long and predictable history of getting drunk whilst ill, self-harming and then attacking paramedics and police officers with razor blades.  Sending taser officers does not mean they will even use that equipement, but it gives them the option, if required.  Officers who have known him for years will say that attending to him with a tazer drawn has reduced the instances of him attempting to hurt people, paramedics won’t go near him without police support anyway and here’s the key: he has never actually been tasered.  Officers have fixed an aim on him – known as being ‘red-dotted’ – but they have never needed to discharge the equipment.  This is an example of taser being ‘used’, despite not being fully utilized.

Secondly, hostage negotiators are fine ideas.  I personally have never, ever known a situation last long enough for them to arrive although I know of plenty of incidents where they have been invaluable and have patiently negotiated difficult situations to a conclusion.  In my experience, some front-line cop has always managed to “talk them down” or bring about a resolution first.

Thirdly, whilst calling ambulances and mental health crisis teams are noble notions, there is a practical reality that makes police officers read such ideas and – I’m afraid to put it so bluntly – laugh out loud at the thought of it.  As a police officer put it recently “We can’t get the ambulance service to heart attacks and car crashes, never mind mental health jobs.”  Mental health crisis teams are a step further, like throwing the meta-physical “seven”.

The ‘last resort’ in the continuum of force is shooting people with firearms.  It was precisely such incidents like the shooting of Andrew KERNAN in Liverpool and Keith LARKINS in London that lead to the Home Secretary to consider the introduction of so-called “less-lethal” options in 2007.  I have written previously about the use of force on vulnerable people and of the utility of force.

THE USE OF FORCE

UseOfForceNB: nothing you are about to read suggests that officers should not take all the opportunity that time and risk allows to de-escalte and communicate.  Hours, if need be.  This blog is about what happens after that.

As a police inspector on a 999 response team, I am responsible for certain decisions about the police use of force – I am consulted by the police control room countless times a shift to make decisions where force may be needed, because risks may be present.  I have to take decisions about whether we send ‘normal’ cops, or we send taser officers, dog handlers, or any combinations of the above.  If I believe that armed officers may be required, I have to fire that one further up the chain of command and sometimes, I’d prefer to take decisions for which time does not allow – sometimes things are just as good as they’re going to get and we’ve got to crack on to keep people safe.

A senior officer in another force shared with me a real story that perhaps highlights some of the dilemmas that officers face when deciding how best to deal with those who are experiencing acute mental ill-health:

Earlier in 2012, a man with a long history of mental health episodes and contact with police and health professionals, was found in a public place. Officers were concerned for his safety and detained him under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.  He was taken to a health based place of safety where he was detained by medical staff.  The following day he absconded from the unit and was reported as a high-risk missing person to the police.  Officers were diverted from other duties to join the search.  After some time the man was found when he made it back to his home address, in a town about a dozen miles away from the secure unit. Officers returned him to the unit.

Some time later police were called again to the secure unit as staff requested help as they had lost control of the man.  He had been put in a relaxation room but had managed to gain access to a sharp implement and was slashing himself. The officers that attended estimated that the man had 70 to 80 self-inflicted slash wounds. He did not respond to verbal engagement by medical staff or attending officers.

TACTICAL OPTIONS

At this point officers had the following options on a continuum of force;

  • Do nothing – unconscionable.
  • Let staff try to restart communications – that had already broken down.
  • Communicate – tried to no avail.
  • Restraint techniques – man is armed with a sharp implement.
  • CS spray – not ideal in an enclosed space as it would ‘take out’ the cops, too.
  • Baton strikes – risking serious injury to the man by striking him with a metal pole.
  • Strikes by hand or legs (distraction strikes) – man is armed with a weapon.
  • Shield tactics – delay in assembling trained staff and shields may be prohibitive.
  • Taser – risk of reaction to discharge.
  • Firearms – unlikely to be authorised in this situation and only possibly capable of leading to death / serious injury.

In front of their eyes the man was getting increasingly more out of control, and his level of self-injury was increasing by the second.  Communication was having no effect. Medical staff couldn’t help. The man was still self harming.  The man was tasered.

Officers immediately regained control of him and he was given rapid first aid for his multiple injuries. There was no long-lasting impact, beyond shortening the length of time that he could self harm.  The following day the man was assessed and released.  That evening he was found by police in the centre of his home town after reports from a member of the public of a man self harming….officers again detained him under section 136 MHA.

IN EXTREMIS

Tasering a patient in a secure unit sounds extreme. Given the circumstances officers took a decision that resulted in safe detention that enabled medical treatment to be given.  All of the available options carried risks. Taser was assessed as being the least risky of all the risky options available, hence it was used to good effect.  I have known taser be deployed in several situations like this senior officer’s story.  I have also received emails from mental health professionals praising officers patience, courage and tact and reaching the ‘taser’ conclusion only after trying other things or being so pressured by the need to manage risks that there was no time.  I have specifically followed up every taser incident I have known to ask mental health professionals their views on it being used and have never found any criticism or reservation being levelled.

Human beings using force on other human beings is never going to be perfect science.  It will always be about selecting the least worst option and about attempting to minimise risks.  The reason I find the debate on this subject fairly shallow is because it involves words like “never”.  Whether or not we agree, the Home Office have licensed this equipment for use by the police and it is issued.  If you want a political debate about whether this is correct, then that’s fine.  Meanwhile, cops who are issued with this equipment and led by people like me have to make decisions respecting its use: do we use it in some situations or do we instead strike people with metal poles and spray them with CS?

Or do we ask people like PC Alex STUPYLKOWSKI to risk life threatening injuires from sharpened weapons whilst acting without such equipment?  I’m wondering whether PCs Tom HARDING and Alastair HINCHCLIFF wish they had been equipped with taser when they were sent to Kingsbury armed with a metal pole and a small tin of pepper whilst being expected to detain Christopher HAUGHTON?  The Metropolitan Police are reviewing the availability of Taser in light of Kingsbury because getting into the non-taser tactical options listed above meant Mr HAUGHTON had opportunity to attempt to murder two police officers and grievously injure several more.

No one thinks tasering ‘the vulnerable’ is inherently good, but just every now and then – very, very rarely – it may be the least worst thing to do with officers facing risks that could kill them or inflict life-altering injuries.  I say this in knowledge that using taser may well exacerbate someone’s condition but repeat the point that by the time the police are crisis managing risk situations where people are self-harming, non-communicative and posing a risk to themselves or others, it might – just might – be the the least worst option available.

For a real example, we can see the Buckingham Palace incident in February 2013.

MEDIA LINKS

1.  Daily Telegraph
2.  The Independent
3.  Nathan Constable’s blog on the police use of Taser.

UPDATE 28/12 >> I am grateful to Paul JENKINS for reading and re-tweeting the blog to show an alternative point of view.  Paul took on board operational realities for the police and rightly insisted that this should not prevent a broader ‘policy’ debate about how these situations come about.  I totally agree with him about that!  Would also encourage you to read Nathan Constable’s blog which shows a real example of the operational reality around police decision making, from first hand experience (trigger warning).

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

BadgeThe Mental Health Cop blog won

- the Mind 2012 Digital Media Award, in memory and in honour of Mark Hanson.
The Awards celebrate the “best portrayals of and reporting on mental health in the media.”
- a World of Mentalists 2012 #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs.
It was described as “a unique mix of professional resource, help for people using services and polemic.”

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18 thoughts on “Taser

  1. I have been out at 02:00hrs with the police as the MH
    Crisis Team, in my experience the police has always used the least
    force necessary. I’ve been out with armed response officers, with
    dog handlers and with a public disorder team, all in my role as MH
    crisis response: on every occasion the police have talked down
    individuals before deploying the next level response – I’m not
    saying its an easy thing to resolve in our heads, it is however a
    balance, as the blog says of ‘least worst option’. If it was my
    family, I guess I’d rather be here tomorrow to argue if it was the
    right decision rather than asking why nothing was done.

  2. I haven’t enough knowledge to be totally sure what the correct response is in these difficult circumstances, BUT, what I do know is that it must be good that we are having these debates.

    Our Mental Health Forum in Suffolk was contacted recently by a member of staff from the County Police HQ who has been asked by the Chief Constable to look into Mental Health issues both for residents in the community, but also for the Police Officers themselves. After reading about you and your blog in the Guardian, I sent details of this to her, but her IT system wouldn’t allow her to access your blog. That is sad and I very much hope her IT pals can sort this. A debate like this is too important and needs to be readily available to ALL who are interested.

    I feel that we need a Forum, which we can call a Voluntary and Statutory Partnership, and this should involve partners from The Constabulary,The Mental Health Trusts, Housing Providers, Schools, The Voluntary Sector, General Practice, Probationary Service, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, etc etc. The sharing of information across these service providers is essential, especially in these financially straitened circumstances. We all need to know what is available outside our own service and we cannot rely on chance to fill in our gaps in knowledge any more. We need to meet regularly, disseminate information to all parties and establish firm lines of communication across all sectors. This can be cheap to set up and, in the long run, very cost effective.

    I think that these Forums need to be locality based so that local knowledge can be shared. We are working towards this in Suffolk and if we ensure that the Constabulary is at the centre of this, then it may well succeed….here’s hoping.

    1. Thanks for this – because this is a blog, some organisations’ IT systems automatically block it in the way that they block shopping and pornography websites. Can usually be fixed by IT but as most officers have smartphones with endless data bundles, you could point out that it is available on phones too? Thanks again!

  3. probably well qualified to comment on this, nursing a sore head from assault yesterday,similar situation of someone out of control on mh unit, ever so grateful for fast police response, when they arrived they quite rightly took control and a taser was deployed but not used, the officers were of the opinion we did not have the staff, training or equipment to deal with situation which is a damming indictment of nhs procedures and i also felt a plonker for having to call them, worst option imho is cs gas tends to annoy rather than work

  4. Agree totally. Taser is the lesser of evils and every use scrutinized. Many calls to police regarding self harming is when people are using bladed articles. The nature of the mental state of the people doing it means that negotiated outcomes are difficult. There is also a requirement to resolve things quickly to preserve life. This means that the comparatively low use of force on the conflict management model of Taser is likely to be used. This is to prevent police watching a person kill themselves or perhaps receiving life threatening injuries themselves and still not resolve the situation.

  5. I do not think that a Taser is right to be used. A person suffering from Akathisia can feel even more threatened surrounded by staff and police in uniform threatening arrest. If only there was choice of care for someone who may be constantly arrested and taken to acute wards- if only Root and Branch Project was set up with peer support – other patients who have been through this situation being involved in the care. If only people from Speak Out Against Psychiatry could have a role to play in calming someone down. I know sometimes someone is in such a state (have seen it) that you cannot get through to them. The Root and Branch Project is featured on my website and there should be choice for patients. Sometimes patients beg to go back on the ward as they cannot cope in the community. If someone is not taking the drugs properly or have tried to take themselves off too steeply then this could be the cause of psychosis. Until there are people who listen to the mentally ill and supply choice in care, these incidents will be common. The care in the community is also failing some people as they have been too long in hospital and cannot cope. The police have not got a good reputation amongst the mentally ill – I know this for a fact and the psychiatric drugs lead to other addictions such as alcohol and illicit drugs. If someone is suffering terrible side effects of a psychiatric drug there is no help in the UK to be reduced in a proper manner even when a diagnosis is in doubt. The more the mentally ill people lose hope the more desperate their behaviour becomes. AS Dr Ann Blake Tracy correctly says the drug can have the effect of making someone in a dream like state where they act our their nightmares (I have seen this myself)

    The NHS lack decent facilities and the care is mostly the drugs – every time a person is re-admitted the drugs are increased so it would seem – my daughter has been transferred miles from home to the private sector she says is like a four star hotel where the food is lovely. However as I have documented on my website things are not perfect there either. There is strict control and manipulation going on there just like at the Bethlem. The mental health trusts dismiss families and do not act upon complaints properly and cover up incidents on the ward. They cover up serious incidents that h ave happened on the ward.

    I am afraid you have missed out something important the Forum should first and foremost include patients who have suffered on the acute wards, have had police involvement – the people who have helped me more than anyone else has been the ex patients themselves who have managed to get back on their feet and support one another. I quite understand how they feel when they are not listened to. The acute wards should only be used short term – there needs to be a complete overhaul of the whole system and law. Some staff are good, some are bad under the NHS – I have come across both – by threatening someone deeply disturbed with a taser is a bad idea in my opinion. However from my personal experience of an event that happened a friend of a person asked permission to approach that person when surrounded by police and that was all it took. As my daughter said whilst suffering from Akathisia “I feel like I am crawling out of my skin, Mum – please help me – I am suffering from hallucinations, nightmares, cant sleep – this is terrible suffering of someone who is on a high level of LSD like drugs that cause psychosis in themselves and was being ignored time after time again, dumped into society, living on nothing because staff stay away for health and safety and so do the crisis team. This is why groups of ex patients such as Speak Out Against Psychiatry are needed as they care to visit people in hospital and wish to provide more support in the community but of course this will need funding. Who better to approach and help with someone in distress but a former patient themselves who truly understands.

    Usually someone who is in such a condition suffering from Akathisia will eventually calm down if left alone although I appreciate that if other people are at risk then intervention is necessary.

    It is very sad that patients are not listened to, are stripped of their rights and many I know are on never ending sentences and the family backgrounds are not what you would expect either – often these people are from very nice backgrounds but have suffered trauma in their lives but the answer is not just to push drugs at them and that is what is going on under current mental health care for profit.

    1. As a Taser carrying police officer how am I to know if somebody is suffering from a MH problem that is best dealt with by me leaving the scene? Especially when they are threatening to kill themselves or others.

      Bear in mind that it took you longer to read my post than I may have to decide if I use a Taser or not.

  6. There is a (understandable) belief that using a taser is almost like using a firearm. The reality is much different. It hurts for 5 seconds (I’ve had it done !)
    It is a far lower use of force than a baton or even CS spray – which is a chemical irritant!!!)
    Taser is often a lower use of force than officers having to lay hands on subjects

    The problem is image. Paul JENKINS repeatedly calls it a “Taser Gun”
    It is not a gun. If if were somehow to be a different shape, it wouldn’t have such a comparison to being a “gun”

    Paul JENKINS must realise that Police are being called to NHS mental health hospitals to deal with prisoners that staff cannot/ will not tackle. So most of the options he talks about have already failed

    Certainly in my area, the idea of getting a crisis team to respond in any sought of prompt manner is completely unrealistic

    I have found the staff at our local mental health hospital in complete support of the one time a Taser was deployed

  7. I am someone with a personality disorder. I am well known to the police as a result of this and am a service user at my local mental health establisent. I am also an attention seeker and a lifetime self harmer. The situation above is familiar to me and I can associate with the difficult decision the police had to make as to the most appropriate way to resolve the issue. It is probably not appropriate for me to comment on the use of taser in this situation as my personal opinion is one from a warped mind! (Taser is the ultimate in self harming if that is what you are genuinely trying to achieve). However a viewpoint which I can offer that may be useful is that when I’m in a distressed state there is NO negotiation option. Once I become distressed I am not able to communicate and am not able to respond to communication. Personally I am usually able to recognise that someone is trying to help but I am simply unable to stop what I’m doing or respond. I can recall what was said to me after the incident but will also remember the frustration of being unable to respond. It makes you feel very helpless, and further attempts to verbally communicate will only serve to increase my frustration and therefore exacerbate the situation. In my opinion and my personal experience physical restraint is the only thing that will stop me. I usually find that fairly soon after being restrained I calm down because I finally feel safe. I can’t hurt myself anymore! I understand that this won’t be the same for everyone but I honestly think that when dealing with someone who isn’t responding to verbal communication (always the first and preferred option !!) then the use of force is appropriate and may even be appreciated by the patient. From a police perspective I can understand that once the decision to use force has been made, then officer safety is implicit and when a weapon is involved it is entirely appropriate to use taser.

  8. Thank you for a really interesting post and, if you will indulge me, there is an interesting set of ethical arguments going on.

    Effectively there are two different arguments going on here. Firstly, you are arguing from a more ‘ends justify the means’ point. The best outcome is the crisis to be over, with no-one hurt, and everyone safe. That is the ideal, and if it can’t be gained, then as close to it as possible is preferred with the minimum harm necessary caused. The second argument is a more principled one, that a person undergoing a mental health crisis – and threatening to harm, or actually harming, themselves – must not be tazered. There are no consequences that would justify this, because the argument is not (superficially at least) based on consequences, but is instead formed from principles that may perhaps include – and I am only going by the quotes above – respecting a persons autonomy, or perhaps the principle that force should only be used on those using or threatening harm to others. It’s hard to pick this apart with just the quotes given.

    Without losing sight of the importance of this issue to practitioners, and the desperately real impact and effects on our victim, it would be interesting to explore both sides. To the principle of – no tazer use on self-harmers – would this be willing to accept the death of the person as a consequence, wholly or partly? Yes, it may also be a consequence of many other things – attempts to negotiate by the responding PC / paramedics didn’t work, community MH structures did not prevent the crisis from first occurring, possible alcohol or drug use, etc – but there could be a tendency to then blame all of these things and not the ‘do not tazer’ rule, which I would suggest is unfair. Also, if the person self harming could, by self harming, also cause harm to others, would this be sufficient to tazer? Perhaps they are near a ledge holding a child, perhaps they jump into a fast-flowing river and one or more rescuers die trying to save them. Does this change the argument?

    The other side of the argument, the more consequentialist one, I think is actually a good one, although it suffers from some well-known confounders. That a tazer looks like a gun, is ‘shot’, and was first introduced only to firearms officers has, I think, helped label it as a much higher use of force that it actually is. That we make a point of calling it a less-lethal option, but don’t call baton strikes, for example, a less-lethal option, elevates tazer to a position on its own, associated with lethality. The idea of a continuum of force is good when looking at broad concepts – verbal communication at one end and firearms at the other – but the detailed positioning of certain tactics on it is far more problematical, as I’m sure you would agree. In years of officer safety training I have never seen agreement on where a tazer fits. Some will have it as just below a firearm, some put it below baton strikes but above incapacitant, etc. Part of the issue is, I think, the subconscious association of a tazer with a firearm, but part is the varied, and sometimes contradictory, information that comes out around tazer use.

    There is, apparently, a small (how small?) number of people who may suffer some form of heart condition (pre-exisiting or otherwise)? I think we can all visualise someone tazered falling and hitting their head, or a tazer barb hitting someone in the eye, though we can try to mitigate this somewhat, when & where possible. Add all this up somehow and you have the risk of harm from a tazer.

    Though impossible to quantitatively add this up, is this risk of harm then less that the risk of harm to victim and others, though other options?

    It feels as if it is less, and that tazer is the option with – overall – less risk, but at this point I must ask for the empirical data, for we should be guided by this. A very brief search throws up a lot of articles looking at the smaller picture, but I’ve not yet found anything looking at the wider strategic piece. The few things I’ve found so far that look at tazer in MH settings are similarly limited in nature. (I think I’m going to have to look a bit deeper here) Let us not forget, however, this is a consequentialist argument, and if we were to argue that tazering a person self-harming in a MH crisis fails to, for example, treat them as a ‘means in themselves’ and is therefore wrong, no amount of data will counter this argument, as it is not evidence/consequece based.

    In summary, then, this is suspiciously like the traditional ethical argument between consequentialism and deontology/rules-based ethics, which has been going on for centuries, and features in many areas of policing. Away from the abstract theory, this affects real people every day, sometimes very gravely, and we need to be having these discussions and, if not reaching a full consensus, than at least having agreement over what the positions are, being then able to reflect that in subsequent decision making at all levels.

  9. As an operational police officer authorised to use taser I
    have deployed it a large number of times and actually had to fire
    it only 4 times in almost 2 years, 2 of which were on mentally ill
    persons who became extremely violent. One was actually in the car
    park of a mental health hospital where a patient was smashing staff
    cars with a large chair then attacked a colleague as we attempted
    to deescalate and communicate with him. He actually ripped my
    colleagues stab vest off just before I managed to taser him. He was
    safely restrained with no injury to him or my colleagues just
    seconds later. The second time was a back up shout to two
    colleagues who were trying to arrest a very violent and very ill
    male. They were armed with only baton and CS, communication was out
    of the question as he attacked the car as soon as they pulled up.
    They were trying to detain him but CS had no effect, this led to
    him being struck with a baton a number of times. As I pulled up
    both officers struck him to the legs with a baton and it had no
    effect what so ever. I’ll freely admit I was terrified as the male
    was large, ill, very aggressive and appeared immune to pain. He was
    tasered a number of times but after around 30 seconds was again,
    safely restrained and on his way to hospital. The only injuries he
    had were from the baton strikes. My point is that tasering someone
    who is mentally ill is never a good option but rather sometimes can
    be the best option in the circumstances. Police officers should
    have the equipment to protect not only themselves but the public as
    well. If that means tasering someone to prevent them from harming
    themselves or others then so be it, my primary duty is to protect
    life including the person’s who I may be dealing with. There will
    never be an ideal solution to some mental health crises and the
    nature of the job often means we have to make do with the tools at
    our disposal. In my experience far from taser being a detrimental
    use of force, it has indeed stopped further injury to colleagues,
    the subject and has also ended the situation incredibly quickly
    where other methods would have had much more serious consequences
    and mainly for the subject. Of course having said all that, I’m
    always open to better methods of conflict resolution which is
    perhaps where the debate would be better served. My experience
    tells me that generally, when police are called in a mental health
    environment it’s because most of the other methods have already
    failed and violence is either already happening or very likely. So
    where do we go from here?

  10. It is never appropriate to use a Taser, but especially not on someone who is vulnerable.
    Tasers may momentarily shut them up, traumatise and terrify them into ‘compliance’ but what do you think it is going to do to someone who is already terrified, traumatised, and justifiably angry at a system that abuses them?
    Itwasme5 seems not to like themselves, they are NOT representative of most MH service users who are not ‘attention-seekers’. Honestly, Itwasntme5, please consider that other service users might be tarred with that brush who don’t deserve it before saying things like that.
    This post implies that people with mental health problems are violent, as do most of the comments. Now some can be, just as some people without mental health problems can be, but the truth is that people with mental health problems are NOT more likely than the general population to be violent. We ARE more likely to be VICTIMS of violence.
    Some people are violent arseholes who it is appropriate and necessary to use a Taser on, true, but this is not to do with their mental health.
    Mental health services are not doing their jobs if people known to them are being left to get into such a state that they are harming/ threatening to harm themselves, or others. Simple as that. Police being called to psychiatric wards (already abusive places) appalls and disgusts me.
    ‘Attempts to communicate’ are usually patronising, manipulative and abusive. I have experienced this. Admittedly there were times the police have been good with me – and I responded, as most people with MH problems do, to their genuine concern. (One well-meaning but misinformed officer told me he was surprised, that I wasn’t like ‘them’, those nasty people with mental illness…because I am white, middle-class and articulate, and was at that time co-operative…he was trying to be helpful, but I simply felt sorry for all the people with
    The police are not trained in mental health, and that’s not their job. The disgraceful negligence of the ‘care’ system that is supposed to help people with MH issues has resulted in people coming to the attention of the police who shouldn’t. This has been my experience. The ‘crisis team’ couldn’t be bothered to actually talk to and help me, and when I resorted to phoning them threatening suicide, called the police.
    Taser may not be as extreme as some other weapons, such as firearms, true, but it causes severe pain and incapacitation. That makes it a weapon.
    I don’t believe there are many situations where: 1. communicating, and 2. restraint won’t work. In any case, those situations aren’t related to mental health. They’re just, as I said earlier, people being violent arseholes.
    The post comes over as excuses. It’s never acceptable to say that Taser is the ‘least worst’ option. I was disappointed in it, to be honest – I expected something more thoughtful and nuanced from you. I particularly don’t understand how the other day you decried someone being forcibly ‘returned’ to a psychiatric ward and forcibly medicated. Was it because that was a case of mistaken identity, and the person wasn’t really ‘mental’? Is it OK to forcibly medicate people with mental health problems, but not those without, and why?
    The Taser might temporarily subdue someone, and consequently stop them harming themselves and others, but that is all. All Tasering someone will further traumatise them. These are people who have already been abused and traumatised, are already in a system that dehumanises and abuses them. This additional trauma will just increase their distress. The ‘treatment’ and ‘care’ that is clearly failing them will just fail them again, so you will actually create a problem by making them *more* likely to end up coming into contact with the police in future during another episode – caused in part by the trauma of being Tasered.
    The system is messed up.
    Listen. Don’t respond with violence.

  11. ‘In front of their eyes the man was getting increasingly more out of control, and his level of self-injury was increasing by the second. Communication was having no effect. Medical staff couldn’t help. The man was still self harming. The man was tasered.
    Officers immediately regained control of him and he was given rapid first aid for his multiple injuries. There was no long-lasting impact, beyond shortening the length of time that he could self harm. The following day the man was assessed and released. That evening he was found by police in the centre of his home town after reports from a member of the public of a man self harming….officers again detained him under section 136 MHA.’
    THIS is the problem. You actually admit that he was found the next day, self-harming again? So you realise Tasering did nothing whatsoever to stop him? And probably just made him want to self-harm even more?
    Shortening the length of time he could self-harm…so what…he was always going to do it again. Just not in front of the police, who cares what people do in their own homes, yes? The actions of the police stopping him weren’t about him, they were about the comfort of those police officers.

  12. ‘I have also received emails from mental health professionals praising officers patience, courage and tact and reaching the ‘taser’ conclusion only after trying other things or being so pressured by the need to manage risks that there was no time.’ So being pressured for time is an excuse for tasering? No time to bother actually engaging with the person? Why bother, right, they are just crazy and therefore violent?
    ‘I have specifically followed up every taser incident I have known to ask mental health professionals their views on it being used and have never found any criticism or reservation being levelled.’ Hahaha, most mental health so-called professionals are abusive and stigmatise the service users themselves, hardly a good source of opinion. Have you asked the people who were tasered for *their* views?
    Taser is open to abuse. As is ‘restraint’. I’ve known service users have limbs broken by police ‘restraining’ them, there is just no rational way several officers NEED to do that to ensure their safety. All the police officer or ‘professional’ has to do is claim they *felt* the service user *might* have become violent, and they are home and dry. Who do we believe, the calm-appearing (in front of their superiors) ‘professional’ or the mere crazy person?
    Patients have died after being ‘restrained’. Taser is even more dangerous.
    I used to believe the police, and medical professionals, were (mostly) decent. After being mentally unwell…I don’t any more. Institutional abuse is rife.

  13. Boss, will Paul Jenkins be posting a reply? As a taser officer I would be interested in his view, all of it, not just the bits in the papers.

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