Police in Wiltshire used Tasers hundreds of times in a year, figures show.
In a report published recently, the Independent Office for Police Conduct raised serious concerns around the unnecessary or unsafe use of the devices by forces across England and Wales, particularly against non-white or vulnerable people and children.
The report from the police watchdog made 17 recommendations to bodies including the Home Office, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, calling for improvements to the national guidance, training, scrutiny and monitoring of Taser use.
The latest Home Office data shows that Wiltshire Police drew Tasers 255 times in the year to March 2020, though officers only discharged the electric shock weapons on 36 occasions.
The figures count the number of times officers involved in an incident used their Taser rather than the number of separate incidents.
Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi, the NPCC’s lead for less lethal weapons, said that Tasers were critical in protecting both officers and the public facing violent situations.
She acknowledged improvements could be made but said officers were already well scrutinised when it came to using reasonable force, adding: “Policing is not easy and in many violent situations I believe Taser is a viable less lethal option for officers between using a baton and the lethal force of a gun.
“Officers are well trained to use the reasonable force given to them in law to confront the violence or threat of violence they are faced with when they protect the public and themselves.”
The IOPC report warned that police risked losing public confidence if concerns around Taser use were not thoroughly addressed.
IOPC director Michael Lockwood said forces must be able to justify the circumstances in which Tasers are deployed and must respond to a national disproportionality in use against black people.
Across England and Wales, black people were eight times more likely to be subject to use of Taser than white people in 2019-20, according to the IOPC report.
Where ethnicity was recorded, the figures for Wiltshire Police show that white people were involved in 182 incidents of Taser use over the same period, compared to 26 involving black people.
In 29 cases, no ethnicity was recorded.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing are carrying out a review to understand and tackle the racial disproportionalities in Taser use nationally.
Ms D’Orsi said the work would remain a policing priority.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, of human rights campaign group Amnesty International, said: “The police have a disturbing track record of disproportionately using Tasers against black people and those in mental distress.
“In some circumstances, Tasers can be effective if used by well-trained officers to prevent loss of life or serious injury but they’re open to misuse and over-use.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our police officers must be equipped with the resources, tools and powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe – including Taser.
“Officers in England and Wales pass one of the most comprehensive training programmes in the world before being authorised with a Taser.
“In 86% of cases where a Taser is drawn, it is not discharged, demonstrating its impact as a powerful deterrent that deescalates dangerous situations.”