Sunday, January 6, 2008

Will Ireland's Garda and PSNI tasers at least be molded in appropriate colors?

ireland garda PSNI taserWorldwide arms dealer Taser International has been busy exporting their lucrative brand of American craziness. Vampires haunt blood banks. TI pitches sales to troubled markets. They've scored bloody good hits in Ireland.

Today's Guardian Unlimited reports that the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be issued Tasers this week. They'll be available only to 'highly trained firearms officers' from the PSNI's Special Operations Branch during a pilot program the PSNI claims has been confirmed by the Human Rights Adviser to Northern Ireland's Policing Board as in compliance with the Human Rights Act.

The Policing Board insisted, however, that tasers should not be deployed until the completion of an Equality Impact Assessment, and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has claimed Tasers could potentially violate Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The PSNI site lists the Use of Taser EQIA as Planned for 2007 / 2008. The assessment is not complete and the tasers are on the street. The Policing Board controls nothing, certainly not the PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Ord. One wonders whether the planned statement will do anything but ensure that all citizens are equally likely to be tasered into submission at a cop's whim.

There's been discussion for some months, as you can see on the web.

In January 2007 Northern Ireland News (I'm guessing this is the “conservative” voice among news outlets there) seemed to be solidly in favor of electroshock weapons, as is evident in this aggressive paragraph:

“There will be a shock in store for those attempting to evade justice early next year as Northern Ireland gears up with controversial Taser stun guns - and there'll be no hiding place in London either.”

Weapons haven't brought justice to Northern Ireland historically, and there seems to have been too many weapons laying about there for some time. Justice doesn't come out of the barrel of a gun. Mao Tse-Tung thought Love did, but that hasn't worked out so well either.

In April 2007, across the border, Tanaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, TD, authorized the use of tasers by the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU). There is some hope that they will, at least at first, be restricted by policy to the upper end of the use-of-force continuum and not allowed to slip to an option of first response as they have in the US:

“Circumstances under which less lethal weapons could legitimately be used are limited to circumstances where this is necessary to avoid the use of firearms. The use of firearms is permitted only to repel serious attacks on Gardai, members of the public or property, or in the arrest or re-arrest of persons involved in serious offences. Strict conditions are laid down, including a requirement in all cases that all other means of achieving the purpose in question have been exhausted, before firearms may be used. The test which currently applies to the use of less lethal weapons, that their use is necessary to avoid the use of firearms, is therefore a high one.”

Of course, that's how they were first presented here, too. Now American police routinely taser anyone they wish- unconscious, restrained, pregnant, underage, mentally unstable, non-threatening- even when they greatly outnumber the victim and have other options. Note that the "search" function of the An Garda Siochana website doesn't work, and I can't find any mention of tasers there.

In June 2007 the Irish Times ( reported that the North's Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said he was considering deploying 12 tasers in a pilot scheme even though assessments were not complete. The Policing Board in Belfast accused him of ignoring its objections. Chairman Sir Des Rea said: "This Board has not reached a view on the use of Taser. It will do so as and when the Equality Impact Assessment is complete... the decision should be left until that is completed but the chief constable has made his decision in terms of his operational responsibility."

Sinn Fein Board member Martina Anderson said the PSNI had heard from a range of groups concerned about the impact of Taser. "Many of them are telling you that issuing Tasers is inappropriate, absolutely not acceptable until an equality impact assessment is complete and its conclusions are taken into account. You are totally ignoring... the views expressed by those organisations."

In October 2007 Patricia Lewsley, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (the organization is called NICCY) said Chief Constable Sir Hugh Ord's decision to introduce Tasers into Northern Ireland must be reversed, and that she believes he may be in breach of both advice from the Policing Board and the European Convention on Human Rights.

It's sad to see that police in Ireland behave no better than their American and Canadian counterparts, and that Irish politics responds to this threat to civil liberties no better than our own has. Having forgotten who their employers truly are, police do whatever they wish regardless of objections. Hugh Ord probably never intended to wait for or comply with the Equality Impact Assessment. Police officials North and South seem to fully understand that once tasers are issued, even on a limited basis, the foot is in the door and electroshock weapons are there to stay.