the Disillusioned kid: Bent Copper With A Stun Gun
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Monday, October 31, 2005

Bent Copper With A Stun Gun

In the States, Taser International have been having a hard time of late. They have faced increasing safety concerns about the electro-shock stun-guns they produce; been sued by police officers who claim that they were injured by the weapons during training; and been forced to reclassify the weapons from "non-lethal" to the less propitious "less lethal". The cumulative effect of this has been a slump in sales with the company's earnings falling to £152,000 for the three months to the end of September, a figure which pales in comparison to the same period last year when they took £3.4 million. Given this increasingly hostile climate over the pond it seems strange that tasers should be being adopted with such enthusiasm by the police over here. Yesterday's Sunday Times offers a possible explanation in the form of a good old-fashioned bent copper.

Inspector Paul Boatman was in charge of assessing the merits of tasers for Northamptonshire police, acted as an adviser to the Home Office and came to be “regarded as a national and international expert” on the weapon, according to Chris Fox former chief constable of Northamptonshire. He even helped develop the country's first training programme for police officers unfamiliar with device a programme subsequently adopted and built-upon by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In his own words he "was the one who initially looked at the Taser and indicated that I think (sic) it would be a workable option in the UK." "My driving force was I wanted to help introduce tactics and equipment into the UK to make both the police forces and the members of the public that they serve . . . safer." Noble protestations aside, the Sunday Times reveals a problem, while all this was going on Boatman held a 50% share in Pro-Tect Systems, the exclusive UK distributor for the US-based Taser International.

Boatman first encountered Tasers at an exhibition in Germany in 1999 and was apparently quite taken by them, becoming involved in Pro-Tect in December 2000 when he took a 50% stake in what was then a start up company. He became the company's director on December 5 only to resign, retaining his stake, three weeks later on December 27. Pro-Tect received the Taser contract in February 2001. Despite this apparent conflict of interest, Boatman apparently had no qualms about becoming a Home Office adviser two months later. The Home Office went on to approve trial imports in September 2001 (three months prior to December according the article) although the full extent of Boatman's influence on this decision is unclear. He retired from the police on April 16, 2002 and was installed as a chairman of Pro-Tect two days later, his fellow founding director and friend Kevin Coles having held the fort in his absence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boatman insists that he had not connection with Pro-Tect prior to his retirement from the police. Records at Company House seen by the Sunday Times tell a different story, however. In a strict sense, his claim that he has "never been paid by Taser to do anything on their behalf" (because "as a serving police officer that would have been unlawful, unethical and immoral"), may well be true, but given how much he stood to gain from a positive appraisal of their product by law enforcement officials in the UK, the specifics of his relationship with the company should not detract from the fundamental untenablity of his position. Taser International for there part say that they were unaware of Boatman's involvement in Pro-Tect (although one wonders how long they spent checking there was nobody on the company's board who's position might be said to be compromising).

When confronted by the Sunday Times with the evidence of his stake in the distribution firm while a serving police officer Boatman declined to make any further comments or answer questions about whether his stake had been declared to superiors, Acpo or the Home Office. The Home Office, Northamptonshire police and Fox - now the president of Acpo - were similarly tight lipped.

Unfortunately, such commitment to principle on the part of those who claim to be protecting us is not limited to the UK:
Among research considered by the Home Office from police in other countries during trials was a report by Darren Laur, a Canadian officer. Laur and six other serving or former officers in north America are now accused of accepting valuable share options from Taser International.

Court documents released last month in Arizona — where Taser is based — contain a deposition by Tom Smith, the company’s president, that show that all seven served in cities that bought stun guns.

Taser says the officers were not in a position to influence any buying decisions. It also states that the options were granted after the orders were placed. The Home Office said it reached its decision on the basis of independent research.
A quick Google search turned up this article which suggests that the rot doesn't stop here and may even have spread to the top of the US's Homeland Security Department, with former Secretary of Homeland Security Bernard Kerik having made more than $6 million from options in Taser International, whose product he had - entirely coincidentally - been an active advocate of.

So let's recap: tasers have the potential to kill you; undoubtedly facilitate torture and police brutality; serve to lower the threshold on the use of force; and to top it all off, the people promoting them are probably being paid by the manufacturers. Now do you see why I've been going on about them for so long?

None of this prevents advocates of the weapons from trying to convince people of their utility, sometimes in the most bizarre manners. In order to demonstrate that tasers were safe Boatman staged a public demonstration of their use in November 2004 in which he fired one at his wife, Stephanie. This would seem to raise a number of questions about their relationship. Why, for instance, didn't he left her shoot him? One wonders how the conversation when the idea was brought up went:
Mr Boatman: Darling
Mrs Boatman: Yes dear.
Mr Boatman: Are you doing anything next Thursday?
Mrs Boatman: I don't think so, why?
Mr Boatman: I want to shock you with 50,000 volts of electricity in front of assembled officials and press in order to prove a point and make a quick buck out of that company I invested in.
Mrs Boatman: That's nice dear.
The Sunday Times reports that when "her husband unleashed the full 50,000 volts into her back" Stephanie "fell to the ground screaming 'like a pig'." Love it seems really is never having to say your sorry. Even if you've just electrocuted your wife.

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