THE body representing rank-and-file police officers has called for tasers to be kept in every patrol car in the city following a spate of recent attacks.
The Scottish Police Federation said the level of assaults on officers was “far too high” and urged the force to consider the “wider deployment of tasers” in a bid to protect staff. The News told yesterday how a police officer was knocked unconscious and rushed to hospital after being attacked by a man she was trying to arrest on Friday.
The 30-year-old officer was left with bruising, concussion and memory loss following the assault at Whyte Place in Meadowbank, and was later transferred to the Western General Hospital for further treatment. A family member said she was discharged yesterday afternoon and was expected to make a full recovery, but would still be off work for around a month.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said around one in every three officers faced being attacked on the job – averaging out at about 5500 incidents every year. He said: “The levels of assaults on police officers are far too high. Too often charges of assaulting the police are dropped or plea-bargained away. The sentences passed are clearly not acting as a deterrent.
“Beyond that we have to ensure that self-protection training and equipment are good quality and kept up to date. Over the years we have introduced improved handcuffs, batons and CS spray.
“Beyond that we would like to see the wider deployment of tasers so that they are kept in every operational police vehicle.
“The principal aim of the police is to protect the public. An attack on a police officer is an attack on society. To ensure the police can protect the public, the courts and other authorities need to protect the police.”
It is understood only trained firearms officers are currently allowed to carry tasers, with Mr Docherty insisting they made up a “minuscule” proportion of the entire force – numbering as low as just a few hundred.
Recent statistics show the Edinburgh City division of Police Scotland has access to 3578 available police officers – with 1163 of these deployed locally.
Friday morning’s assault comes just weeks after two police officers were punched and kicked by a group of 15 youths outside Portobello police station – with a middle-aged passer-by even joining in with the vicious attack. The officers had rushed outside to the aid of a young girl after hearing “distressed” cries when they were set upon by the gang. And last year an armed policeman was stabbed four times in a frenzied attack on The Mound, with frantic officers only able to subdue the knife-wielding man by using a taser.
Former Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart, who served as a police officer in Edinburgh for eight years before becoming a politician, said he had “sympathy” for the position taken by the Police Federation – but insisted there needed to be a wider public debate before any steps were taken to roll out tasers.
He said: “There is a gap in the non-lethal force [available to officers] – you go from a side baton to armed police officers.
“We need to have something that is non-lethal but is more effective in different situations than a baton. Whether that should be a taser or a pepper spray or something like that is up for debate.
“We need to have a bit of a debate about what the general public are willing to accept, and that’s where Police Scotland have gone completely wrong over the past couple of years.”
Scottish Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said criminals needed to know they would face “the full force of the law”.
She said: “Attacks on police officers occur far too frequently as they work to protect our local communities. Perpetrators need to know that they will feel the full force of the law if they assault an officer. In addition to this, we also need to urgently look at ways to improve their safety and deter future attacks.
“Officers must have adequate support from colleagues when they respond to incidents and relevant training needs to be available to all recruits, which should regularly be refreshed.
“Clearly the use of tasers is a useful tool in the box, but this is only in exceptional circumstances as a proportionate and measured response to an ongoing situation.”
The latest attacks on police officers come on the back of a rise in violent crime across Scotland, with muggings increasing by almost 30 per cent in Edinburgh and violent crime up 3.4 per cent in the first quarter of the year.
The number of city robberies and assaults with intent to rob went from 47 to 61 in that same time period, while reports of sexual assaults are up 70 per cent.
Former police officer and Tory councillor Cameron Rose said the crucial issue was courts dishing out tough sentences.
He said tasers could be an appropriate response in certain circumstances, but added: “There’s something unsatisfactory about that, as we pride ourselves in having a police force that is unarmed.
“The principle of minimum force is a good one, but we need to protect our officers. The big issue for me is that we have sentences that fit the crime.”
Police Scotland’s Chief Superintendent, Elaine Ferguson, said the roll-out of tasers was “not something Police Scotland is considering at the moment”. She said: “Taser Conducted Energy Devices are presently issued to trained authorised firearms officers and there are no plans to expand at this time.”
A history of violence
Friday’s incident was not the first time a city police officer has been attacked in recent years.
Just weeks ago two officers were assaulted by a gang outside Portobello police station, while last year an armed officer was stabbed four times by a knife-wielding man on The Mound. In October, a drunk woman punched a policeman after being thrown out of a Leith Walk pub.
In November, meanwhile, a drug addict was jailed for six months after assaulting three men – including an off-duty police officer – in a supermarket in New Swanston.
West Lothian has also seen a number of incidents, with a man appearing in court in April this year over an incident in which a police officer was allegedly kicked on the head and suffered a broken eye socket.