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Frontline gardai need tasers and they need them now

The Garda Representative Association believes tasers can help gardai protect themselves, the public – and even offenders.

John O'Keeffe Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

SHOULD AN ASSAILANT start running towards you with a knife, blunt instrument or dangerous object, what would be your preferred weapon of defence? Pepper spray? An extendable baton? Handcuffs? You are unlikely to choose any of these. None will afford you sufficient, or indeed any, protection in such a situation.

Yet every day we expect every frontline member of An Garda Síochaná to face off offenders with this paltry level of defence. The truth is that the comely maidens have long since left the crossroads and some are now hiding in the undergrowth with bladed weapons and guns.

Tasers must now be rolled out to frontline gardaí to ensure they can protect themselves, the public they serve and even the offenders they apprehend.

6,000 injured gardai

It is believed that over 6,000 gardaí may have been injured in the line of duty in over a decade – and these are the ones we know of, as many assaults go unreported. Bites, grazes, and bruising are the most common injuries suffered by gardaí, followed by sprains, strains, closed fractures and open wounds.

Internal head injuries are also suffered by certain garda, alongside internal injuries elsewhere in the body, as well as dislocations, infections, and open fractures. The truth is that most gardaí who suffer injuries during the course of their duty simply dust themselves down and go back out on duty.

And it is not just physical injuries that are suffered by gardaí because many may not have the right defence, at the right time. A report by Dr Finian Fallon recently commissioned by the GRA, concluded that some 27% of the frontline were, “walking wounded” when it came to their mental health and one in four may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Being unsafe at work has a huge effect on both the physical and mental welbeing of members. Indeed, there is no comparable occupation where employees are likely to suffer such a debilitating range of injuries and subsequent illnesses while simply carrying out their normal operational duties.

We throw them to the wolves

Yet each day we continue to throw these men and women to the wolves. frontline members have an ASP (extendable baton) and pepper spray – which are simply not sufficient on their own. Tasers are a less than lethal use of force option that can assist gardaí when dealing with aggressive and/or armed offenders.

They reduce risk of injury to police officers and members of the public. Period. We know they work – that is why certain sections within the force, such as the Armed Support Units and the Emergency Response Unit, have already been issued with them. Now it is time to ensure that all our officers are safe.

The facts speak for themselves. Nine times out of ten, the taser’s red dot will ensure offender compliance. They can be deployed at a safe distance and immobilisation and pain cease once the taser is turned off so that normally only minimal aftercare is required.

In fact, a study conducted in the United States has found that 99.75% of suspects who had been subjected to taser use had no significant injuries. Taser use has also been shown to provide positive benefits to police officers. A Houston Police Department study  found the number of worker compensation claims by officers declined by as much as 93% due to deploying tasers as a means of less lethal force.

Suspect injuries have also been impacted by taser use, trimming the percentage of their injuries by as much as 60%.

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English, Welsh and Scottish police have them

Tasers have and are being rolled out in other common law jurisdictions including many English and Welsh police forces, as well as in Scotland. There is a reason tasers are now receiving widespread approval – their use, or threat of their use, is effective in policing situations that may have spiralled out of control.

Every garda patrolling the streets must now therefore be trained and issued with a non-lethal taser. Furthermore, all best international practice and protocols in the use of such less lethal weapons must be followed. Tasers are not the only answer to a panacea of frontline safety concerns.

However, they at least provide a minimum level of defence in a society where many of the criminal classes now have superior armoury at their disposal. The reality is that as it currently stands, gardaí are a helpless slow-moving bullseye target for any criminal with a gun, knife or implement.

The frontline of An Garda Síochána walk towards danger every day so that we may walk away. The least we now can do is afford them a proper weapon of defence to meet the threats they face.

They deserve better. Much better.

John O’Keeffe is Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association and Editor, Garda Review.

About the author:

John O'Keeffe  / Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

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