Police in the United Kingdom drew Tasers on more than 400 minors in 2013, according to an official report released Wednesday.
Figures from the Home Office Taser database, obtained by BBC Radio 5, showed a 38 percent increase in Taser use by police in England and Wales between 2012 and 2013, with officers aiming Tasers at youths between the ages of 10 and 17 about 413 times and firing on them 37 times.
Specially trained British bobbies rely on so-called “non-lethal” weapons such as Tasers and truncheons to address dangerous instances, since only about 5 percent of officers, about 6,700, are authorized to use firearms.
Police say the 50,000-volt weapons are sometimes necessary to subdue even young criminals.
“We have to remember that children can commit violent crime too. The police are paid to intervene in those situations and Taser can be an appropriate use of force,” Metropolitan Police Service Borough Commander Neil Basu told the BBC.
“If that 14-year-old is committing a violent act towards a member of the public or to an officer, or if they are self-harming, then our job is to make sure that that stops in the safest way possible.
“And in certain circumstances, Taser is that option.”
But others argue the expanding prevalence of the devices are a furtive way of militarizing police.
“Several years ago, Tasers were deployed to certain trained firearms officers,” said Iain Gould, a director with the firm David Phillips & Partners.
“We now have a situation where routine rank-and-file officers are being given Tasers to use.
“My concern is that it has got out of hand and what we are seeing is effectively militarisation by stealth.”
Indeed, just last month the chairman of Britain’s Police Federation, Steve White, called for all “front-line” officers to obtain Tasers due to a perceived terror threat, an idea one former British officer expressed was a bad idea.
“We are already observing the impact of Tasers on the streets of Britain,” wrote 30-year police veteran Leroy Logan in an article that appeared in The Guardian. “Though issued only to selected officers, they are responsible for a worrying number of fatalities, and a disproportionate number of black and ethnic minorities people – especially those suffering from mental illness – are on the receiving end.”
In the US, Tasers have been blamed for about 634 deaths since 2001, and officers are seemingly becoming aware of the growing threat they pose.
Last month, for instance, the Miami Beach Police Chief halted the practice of employing Tasers on officers during training because it was “extremely unpleasant.”
“I don’t agree with this rule,” said Chief Daniel Oates. “I have been shocked by the Taser, and it is extremely unpleasant. I don’t believe an officer needs to go through that experience in order to be well trained in how to use the weapon.”
Police use of Tasers in the US came under renewed scrutiny this week after a video emerged out of Florida showing police pulling an elderly man out of a car before shocking him while his hands were in the air.
Earlier this month, the interim national board of the Police Federation of England and Wales voted in favor of arming frontline uniformed officers with Tasers.