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Weapons effect: Police armed with Tasers are more likely to use force

Criminologists from the University of Cambridge found that, when visibly armed with Tasers, London police are more likely to be assaulted, and therefore, use force 48% more than unarmed officers. However, during the year-long study, the findings of which have been published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behaviour, of those carrying Tasers, only two officers ever used them, each only once.

“We found that officers are more likely to be assaulted when carrying electroshock weaponry, and more likely to apply force,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Barak Ariel from Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. He continued, “There was no increase in injury of suspects or complaints, suggesting it was not the police instigating hostilities. The presence of Tasers appears to provoke a pattern where suspects become more aggressive toward officers, who in turn respond more forcefully.”

Cambridge criminologists believe that Tasers may trigger a “weapons effect,” a psychological event where the sight of a weapon sparks aggressive behavior.

“It is well established that the visual cue of a weapon can stimulate aggression,” Dr. Ariel continued. “While our research does not pierce the ‘black box’ of decision-making, the only difference between our two study conditions was the presence of a Taser device.”

The researchers studied 800 London frontline officer shifts between June 2016 and June 2017. During 400 of these shifts, at least one frontline officers carried a Taser. In the other 400, all officers were unarmed. Throughout the year-long study, 5,981 incidents occurred.

As stated, those carrying Tasers exerted force 48% more than the unarmed officers. However, even unarmed officers accompanying Taser-armed officers exerted 19% more force than those on Taser-free shifts. Researchers call this a “contagion effect.” Furthermore, six physical assaults were perpetrated against Taser-carrying officers during the study, whereas Taser-free officers were only assaulted three times.

“The City of London police rarely discharged Tasers during the study. Yet the very presence of the weapon led to increased hostility between the police and public,” Dr. Ariel said. Of the weapons effect, he added, “For many, a weapon is a deterrence. However, some individuals interpret the sight of a weapon as an aggressive cue — a threat that creates a hostile environment.”

Those “threatened” are then faced with a fight or flight dilemma, Dr. Ariel explains, which can lead to an assault on an officer. To counter this is simple — just have officers conceal their Tasers.

“This conclusion could be generalised to all types of police armoury, including the lethal firearms carried by police officers,” Dr. Ariel said. “If the presence of weapons can lead to aggression by suspects, so its concealment should be able to reduce aggression and increase officer safety.”

In light of the study, the City of London Police are now exploring different holstering locations or position move to nullify the violence toward officers.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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