State plans broader scope of scenarios where PPA officers can use tasers

Taser equipment.
Taser equipment. Source: ERR

The state is to downgrade the categorization of electric shock 'taser' weapons for Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) use, from their current status, where they rank alongside firearms, to the same category as batons and pepper spray, following claims that the weapons do not present a danger to those being tased.

A bill under preparation at the Ministry of the Interior would broaden the range of situations when PPA personnel could use a taser. 

Henry Timbeg, head of the Ministry's law enforcement and criminal policy department, said that back in 2014, when tasers were a comparatively new item, they were equated with firearms, so far as legislation was concerned.

However, Timberg said: "We have no reason to suppose that a taser is in any way more dangerous in its application than, for example, the use of a telescopic baton, or of tear gas."

Timberg referred to research in the U.S. which claims that both of the latter weapons can actually inflict more damage than an electric shock. "When using a taser, the individual perceives the sensation of pain, while certain marks remain on the body. But there will be no major injuries," Timberg went on.

XJaak Kiviste concurred, adding that the PPA needs to use a weapon that causes as little damage as possible – tear gas, for instance, or pepper spray, can damage the respiratory system, as well as bystanders or the law enforcement officer administering the gadget, or any nearby colleagues.

Tasers involve two very thing, centimeter-long spikes, attached to wires, which, when fired into the human body, penetrate the skin, creating a circuit. Voltage levels as high as 50,000vcan be administered, which cause temporary paralysis of muscles, as well as pain, Kiviste said, rendering the victim immobilized.

Jaak Kiviste, head of the preparation and tactical equipment group of the Police and Border Guard Board, a voltage of 50,000 volts paralyzes human muscles.

PPA personnel have been attacked 150 times in the line of duty in the past four years, ERR reports, with a little over a third of these cases being situations in which officers are forbidden to use a taser, though batons or pepper spray were permissible – Kiviste cited one recent case when a PPA patrol broke up a street fight, after which one of those involved attacked one of the officers

Kiviste noted that blows to the head or a bit from a PPA dog can end much worse for the offender than a taser, whose proportionate use is less dependent upon the skill of the user, also.

At present, the PPA have cause to use a taser around 10 times in a year, where there must be a life-threatening situation and in which a firearm can be used alternatively – in other words the two weapons are place on an equal footing – and include attacks involving a bladed weapon. This year, an individual who stabbed to death a security guard in the Mustamäe district of Tallinn was rendered immobile in this way, while in another case in Valga County, the individual was threatening to harm themselves with a knife

The first tasers arrived in-country in 2018 and, Timberg estimated, cases of their required use could double or triple over the next few years.

Nearly all front-line PPA staff, who number around 1,500, have completed taser training to the required level, and each patrol is equipped with one.

The PPA has around 150 functioning tasers in its possession; the 2018 tender was worth €500,000, while a second tender in 2020 was valued at €2.4 million – in all cases the supplier is Estonian firm Baltic Fox OÜ, the only company with which negotiations were held, and which has a contract with Axon Enterprise, a U.S. firm which produces a larger proportion of the world's electric shock-based weapons.

Between 2001 and 2008, close to 400 people have died in the U.S. in an arrest process involving tasers, though rarely as a direct result of taser use alone, ERR reports.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel

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