Gardai may be issued with stun guns as assaults rise
Garda management is considering the widespread deployment of Taser stun guns in the face of rising injuries to gardai, with around 800 a year needing hospital or medical treatment and spending three days or more off work.
The costs of acquiring large numbers of Tasers had previously been a factor in the decision to acquire only a few of the weapons until now.
However, the enormous cost of compensation to gardai for their work-related injuries is likely to tip the balance in favour of issuing Tasers, which all other police forces deploy widely.
Another compelling factor, according to senior sources, is the fact that the force has become physically smaller since the abolition of height and body requirements in the 1990s – a change pushed for by the Labour Party. On top of this is the fact that, within a few years, the force will be nearly 40 per cent female.
At present, the Taser weapons are only issued to trained members of the armed Emergency Response Unit, based in Dublin, and the five Regional Response Units.
But, gardai say, not all of the Response Unit members are trained in the use of the weapon. If these gardai are on leave or otherwise not available, the weapon cannot be used.
Gardai are now examining different makes of Taser to see which would be the most appropriate for use here. A spokesman said there would be no comment "with regard to the further deployment of Tasers".
Gardai have been calling for the use of the weapons and say that the pepper sprays that were issued a few years ago are of only limited use in violent and crowd confrontations. In one instance in Dublin last year, gardai had to use three pepper sprays to overpower a man who was high on drugs.
The Taser is a potentially lethal weapon and there have been many deaths in the United States, where they are frequently used. The latest versions of the weapons are equipped with small video cameras so that officers can back up their reasons for using the weapon with footage showing the violent behaviour of the persons they are electrocuting. These new Tasers are being deployed across UK police forces, in line with their similar experiences of rising violence against police.
Training in the use of Tasers is relatively straightforward and the weapon can be fired from a range of around six metres.
Gardai spoke of the increasing dangers of their work at the Garda Representative Association conference last week and newspapers carried pictures of injured gardai, including one of a Dublin garda who was attacked and repeatedly slashed with a broken glass by a drunk woman.
Another female garda from Co Louth told how she and a female colleague had both suffered head injuries after they were attacked by a drunk man in Drogheda.
The force has been slow to move on the issuing of personal protection, like anti-stab vests, which were only introduced after the stabbing and near death of Garda James Hendrick in Raheny, Dublin, July 2005. The metal "asp" patrol stick was introduced around the same time to replace the old wooden baton, again in response to the rising numbers of assaults on gardai.
In the past, gardai were able to rely on their physical stature and on the general "respect for the uniform" but this has changed in recent decades with gardai saying it is routine to be abused verbally and to suffer assault, particularly in drunken and drug-fuelled situations at night.
Even day-time patrolling has become dangerous in some parts, with two female gardai badly assaulted in Henry Street in Dublin city centre earlier this year.
Passers-by had to intervene to assist the gardai who were both knocked to the ground and being punched.
Gardai are also generally unhappy over the fact that almost all compensation claims for loss of earnings, suffering and medical costs are contested by the State and the average High Court claim is now taking up to seven or eight years to conclude.