Press releases

Closer supervision and guidelines needed for Taser use

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja believes that the police should issue guidelines for Taser use. He also finds that the use of this weapon should be supervised more effectively. When used correctly, he considers Taser an acceptable device for use of force by the police.

Taser use has been criticised, especially abroad, and it has been suggested that Tasers are linked with numerous fatalities. It appears that specific research on the health risks associated with Tasers does not exist. A pre-trial investigation was carried out on one fatality in Finland. In this case, the prosecutor decided not to prosecute.

Used hundreds of times each year

The Finnish police has been using Tasers for about ten years. In the other Nordic countries, these weapons are only used by certain special units of the Icelandic police.

Statistics from recent years indicate that Tasers are used around three hundred times a year. Most of these cases have involved using the projectile or contact function of the weapon.

Tasers can be used in different ways

There is a clear difference between the two ways of using the weapon. In the projectile function, two darts are shot with a nitrogen cartridge. A tension of 50,000 volts travels through the projectiles to the target, paralysing the voluntary muscles for a moment. The paralysis only last for as long as the weapon remains activated.

In the direct contact function, the weapon (without a cartridge) is brought into contact with the target. This causes severe pain but no paralysis of muscles.

Problems associated wit the contact function

In the international context, such actors as the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, which made reference to the Committee's statements, have been extremely critical especially about the use of the contact function. Severe pain can be caused without leaving visible marks, which makes the weapon easy to abuse. It has also been suggested that many of the fatalities are associated with prolonged contact use.

Other marginal conditions

The Deputy-Ombudsman believes that the National Police Board should prepare guidelines for Taser use. The Ministry of the Interior Legal Affairs Unit concurred with this view in its statement. Attention should also be paid to the quality of training ? including in-service training ? and its supervision.

Not only general monitoring of Taser use but also developing supervision by superior officers in individual cases is important.

The possibilities of recording Taser use by a camera, which has been introduced at least in Australia, should be examined and assessed. It should also be ensured that the data on the memory card that records each instance of Taser use is available if a need arises to investigate incidents at a later date.

These aspects are significant for the legal protection of a person against whom coercive measures are used and also an individual police officer. The precautions would also maintain trust in police activities at a more general level.

The Deputy-Ombudsman informed the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police Board and the Police University College of his views. As part of his inspection at the National Police Board to be carried out later this year, he will establish what measures have been taken as a consequence.

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja's decision of 31 August 2016, record no 1187/2/15, can be accessed at http://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/.

Further information is available from Principal Legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3334.