New legislation could see higher number of police equipped with stun guns
If passed, legislation currently being debated in Parliament could allow Czech police to be far more broadly equipped with electronic stun guns than at present. Currently weapons like the US-made Taser, are used by police but only by special unit officers. The aim is to help them deal with dangerous suspects without having to resort to firearms. But the use of electronic stun guns like the Taser has not been without controversy. The weapon has been named in a growing number of cases of suspicious death and as a result some medical specialists as well as human rights representatives have warned against the weapons’ broader implementation.
Electronic stun guns are supposed to be non-lethal, allowing law enforcement officers to stop aggressors without having to resort to firearms. But stun guns, such as the Taser, have not been shy of controversy, over the years mentioned in numerous cases of unusual death, such as that of Polish national Robert Dziekanski, who died after being shocked twice at Vancouver Airport in 2007. Some organisations haven’t minced words: in a highly-publicised report last November the UN Committee Against Torture explicitly named the TaserX26 – saying it caused “extreme pain” which under “certain circumstances” could lead to death. A little earlier I spoke to Michal Broža, of Prague’s UN Information Centre:
“The Committee Against Torture, a body of independent experts, considered a report last year that Portugal was considering the use of Taser weapons by its police. In its final observations the committee stated it was worried over the use of the Taser weapons, because they cause extreme pain and could even cause death, saying that as such they constituted a form of torture.”
Some have called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers by police bureaus until further studies are conducted showing whether the items can be used safely. Did the committee reflect on that?
“The committee urged Portugal and also all countries which have parties to the convention against torture to review the effects of the Taser as a weapon and to review its use.”
On Wednesday Interior Minister Ivan Langer said he was unafraid the items might be abused; still other police officials have defended the use of stun guns on the grounds their use, unlike classical firearms, is less likely to end in tragedy. Police official Stanislav Radosta spoke to public broadcaster Czech TV:
“If you fire a gun it can have irreversible consequences; the use of a Taser is more humane.”
If the legislation is passed a far higher number of police, including municipal officers, could be equipped with stun guns in the future. As it stands less than 4,000 members of special police units currently use the items now. The issue of broadly equipping police with electronic stun guns will most certainly continue to be the subject of heated debate.