Are police breaking their own rules by using Tasers at Dale Farm?

Police guidance says that the stun guns should not be used for crowd control.

Evictions have begun at Dale Farm. In a morning characterised by violence, protesters and residents have set fire to caravans and thrown objects at the police. Perhaps most striking, however, is the fact that two protesters have been Tasered.

Tasers are stun guns, which fire needle-tipped darts up to 6m away to deliver a disabling, 50,000-volt shock. The dart can penetrate clothing up to two inches thick, and leaves the target incapacitated. The Arizona-based manufacturer, Taser International, says they are designed to temporarily stun a suspect to facilitate their arrest.

Until 2004, only firearms officers were allowed to use them, but in 2008, they were rolled out to all 43 police forces in England and their use increased by a third.

The stun guns have caused considerable controversy in Britain, with Amnesty International maintaining that they should only be used where lives are at risk.

Certainly, they should not be used for crowd control -- as the Association of Chief Police Officer's (ACPO) own guidelines states. Christian Papaleontiou of the Home Office's policing directorate reiterated this to MPs last year. Speaking to the home affairs select committee, he said:

We again support the ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should not be used in terms of a crowd control measure in public order scenarios.

On top of this, ACPO policy guidance on the use of Tasers, dated December 2008, specifies that Tasers must only be used

Where the authorising officer has reason to suppose that they, in the course of their duty, may have to protect the public, themselves and /or the subject(s) at incidents of violence or threats of violence of such severity that they will need to use force.

It is reasonable to extrapolate from this that Tasers should not be used against protesters. A statement by Essex Police said that officers had received "intelligence which informed the commanders that anyone entering the site was likely to come up against violence and a serious breach of the peace would occur". This suggests that their defence will be that the use of force was justified.

However, according to eyewitness reports, police used Tasers as soon as they entered the site (as seen in the picture above), implying that they began with an unnecessary level of aggression. Moreover, given that protestors' "missiles" were, in the words of the police, made up of "rocks and liquids", it is difficult to see how a 50,000-volt stun gun is a proportionate response.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.