Riot police to try laser weapons

American stun guns and laser weapons could be issued to police in the UK following tests to be carried out on behalf of the Home Office, The Engineer has learned.

Three US firms, Taser International, LE Technologies and Combined Tactical Systems, said the government has approached them for research into the use of law enforcement technologies classified as non, or ‘less-lethal’.

Steve Tuttle, director of government and law enforcement affairs for Taser International, told The Engineer that the Home Office got in touch with his company at the end of last year.

‘We are one of many new less-than-lethal advancements that the United Kingdom has shown interest in testing for research. We have received interest in the Advanced Taser M26 which is now with Canadian police forces.’

The gun-shaped M26 fires two probes, with a five metre range, that can attach to clothing and deliver a 50,000 volt shock.

A laser weapon developed by LE Technologies, the Laserdazzler, is also under review. It was invented by former SWAT team sniper, Lieutenant Jay Kehoe.Kehoe said: ‘The Home Office contacted us to evaluate the Laserdazzler for possible use by UK police forces.’

The Laserdazzler is a torch-shaped device that shines a green laser into the eyes. It flashes so fast it overloads the optic nerve. This leaves people standing within the cone of laser light seeing nothing but the colour green.

A third technology the UK government is looking at are so-called ‘bean bag’ munitions produced by Combined Tactical Systems.

Bean bag munitions, such as the company’s Super-Sock Bean Bag, are designed to be used with a standard 12 gauge shotgun, with an effective range of 10m, to knock a person to the ground. The bean bag is made of a special fabric that contains 40g of shot.

The government move comes after the Association of Chief Police Officers told the Home Office that the police needweapons less lethal than conventional firearms, but more effective than CS gas or pepper spray.

A Home Office spokesman said the Police Scientific Development Branch is undertaking a programme of work to review the full range of less lethal equipment and technology available.

‘This includes some equipment currently in use in other jurisdictions, including the US,’ he said. The research is also a response to the Patten report into policing in Northern Ireland, which calls for a replacement for the plastic baton round.

‘The first phase of the programme, currently underway, will review all technology. The second phase will select technologies for testing but this does not imply plans to buy any such equipment,’ said the spokesman.

Pepper sprays have already been issued to 400 police officers in Sussex. The spays were originally rejected by chief constables and ministers in favour of CS gas.Northern Ireland saw 110,000 rubber and plastic bullets fired in its 30-year conflict, resulting in the deaths of 17 people.

A spokesman for civil rights organisation Liberty said the police should use only defensive weapons. ‘We understand they need to defend themselves. If they use stun guns instead of conventional guns without deaths, then that will be a good thing.’