The last few months saw various debates about Taser and I wrote a post about it just before Christmas. Today we saw events outside Buckingham Palace in which a man who has been reported to have “mental health issues” was tasered by a police officer as he brandished two knives, holding one of them to his neck.
Talhat Rehman, 54 from Harrow has been charged with possessing a bladed article and affray and will appear before Westminster Magistrates. I was keen to learn the outcome of this man’s arrest and to learn more about whether the comments about mental health issues are vindicated. It has since emerged that he was previously arrested near Westminster Abbey in possession of a weapon and then diverted from justice under the Mental Health Act. Of course, irrespective of whether that was known, it may just have been officers’ initial perception of him that he was mentally unwell and a proper assessment will have occurred in police custody after he was arrested for affray – an offence concerned with threatening behaviour in circumstances where bystanders could be caused to fear violence. At that stage, proper enquiries would have revealed the Westminster Abbey incident from September 2012 and this background may well have influenced the decision to charge him for the Buckingham Palace incident.
Is it interesting that he was arrested for affray and that he was not detained s136 MHA? Maybe – officers may have suspected MH issues only after the arrest; or they may have weighed up whether to arrest for s136 or an offence and “affray” was their judgement. Again – all reflective of real decisions facing police officers every day but even if he does have mental health issues, the evidence suggests he will still bear criminal liability.
In the broader debate about the coercion by the police, taser remains controversial – see the comments on my recent post on the Use of Force for examples of that. I would argue that the incident which you can see for yourself illustrates why taser can not be ruled out as an option – we see for ourselves that as soon as the man realised he was being approached by the police officer he turned towards him and had all the appearance of intending to lunge towards him with his very large knife as the effects of the taser took hold when he was struck by a second officer.
Why not watch it for yourself? –
Had the police officers approached that situation without a taser there are only two things that would have happened:
- Approach him using CS, baton and handcuffs – the close proximity in which the officer would have had to place himself would have rendered that extremely dangerous and we have seen what can occur. Even if the officers had navigated the incident unscathed, the CS may or may not have worked – it doesn’t work on everyone – and batons are only ever likely to cause injury, sometimes seriously.
- Approach him using firearms – you can see on the video that many of the Metropolitan Police officers present were armed. This is routine near Buckingham Palace. This could only have led to a prolonged stand-off, which may not have been viable in such a congested, densely population tourist area OR to the use of firearms. Taser avoids the need for a firearms conclusion.
Whilst I don’t like the idea that anyone with a mental health problem is tasered, I look at this video and wonder whether what we have seen is the least worst option in the circumstances? All use of force options in this situation would carry risks, including the “do nothing” option. The particular tactical choices made here brought this incident to a conclusion very quickly and very safely without significant risk to the subject but the officers still put themselves in harm’s way because the Taser is not guaranteed to work either. I kep noticing how the man was wearing a fairly thick outer garment and quite probably lower layers of clothing. This can lead to problems in the taser barbs connecting to form a circuit so the officers approach here was not without its own risks.
Something to think about – recognising that the debate goes on.
Talhat REHMAN from Harrow pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to two counts of possession a knife in a public place. He was sentenced to a mental health treatment requirement as part of a community sentence.
Update on 01st April 2015 – since writing this article, a new Code of Practice has come into effect in England. It doesn’t substantially alter the post but certain reference numbers have changed. My summary post about the new Code of Practice (2015) is here, the new Reference Guide is here and the full document is here. The Code of Practice (Wales) remains unchanged.
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