- The authorities should carefully consider whether such weapons can produce the desired results, when the true solution lies in a political settlement
As Hong Kong's protesters are only too aware, police are well equipped to deal with civil unrest. During eight months of disturbances, they have used pepper spray, tear gas, beanbag rounds, sponge grenades, water cannon, retractable batons and live ammunition. But such means have failed to stop violence and other methods of deterrence are being explored, among them tasers. Given hundreds of people are claimed to have been killed by such weapons and mistrust of officers is rife, caution and thorough investigation should go before haste.
Tasers temporarily paralyse a suspect by delivering a high-voltage shock from the firing of two dart-like electrodes, disrupting voluntary use of muscles. Their ability to deal with potentially violent or dangerous people from a distance has made them popular with police forces, other law enforcement agencies and even militaries around the world.
Hong Kong police may arm officers with electroshock devices, net guns
The weapon is not considered of much use for crowd control, being able to target only one person at a time. But users perceive it as having great deterrence value, a red laser dot appearing on a suspect's body before a shock is fired being enough in most cases to ensure compliance with an officer's orders.
Effectiveness has to be gauged against the risks, though; after several decades of use, there are more than a thousand documented cases in the United States alone of people dying after being shocked. What role the tasers played is not certain as government agencies do not track how often they are used and the frequency of fatalities and medical examiners have different standards to assess the weapons' role in a death. But it is known that those most vulnerable are young and elderly people, women and those with physical and mental disabilities. Although there is pressure in Britain for all officers to be issued with tasers, in the US some policies are being reviewed and communities are calling for restrictions.
Tasers require specialised training and strictly enforced rules on use. Their suitability and risks have to be carefully considered. But more weapons are not the way to resolve Hong Kong's civil strife; bringing a lasting end to the protests and violence lies in a political solution.
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