Berlin police launch test phase of divisive Taser-guns

Berlin's police department has started to explore the use of so-called Tasers. The controversial weapons were previously only allowed for use by special units.

Deutschland - Taser für die Berliner Polizei (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen)

Police officers in Berlin will run a three-year test phase of using Taser-guns in threatening situations. The city-state will be the first in Germany to roll out a trial phase of the divisive weapons, which until now were only available to special police units and federal police forces in charge of domestic security issues.

Units in the districts of Mitte and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg have provided training to 20 officers on how to employ Tasers in dangerous situations. Further officers are expected to receive the same training in due course.

The German capital is on high alert following a terror attack in December 2016, in which a truck was used to kill 12 people attending a Christmas market. The city is planning to introduce other measures as part of a comprehensive overhaul of its security setup, including increased video surveillance.

Shoot on sight?

The use of firearms will continue to be allowed alongside Tasers. However, authorities hope that the roll-out of Tasers will reduce the use of guns, offering this technology as part of non-lethal alternatives such as pepper spray and tear gas to combat attacks.

Technically, however, Taser-guns remain subject to state laws governing the use of firearms by police. 

A similar pilot project is reportedly planned for the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, starting in March 2017. The state of Hesse is also considering the use of Tasers.

Deutschland Berlin - Polizei am Brandenburger Tor (Reuters/F. Bensch)

The contentious weapons are intended to give Berlin police officers more choice in how to react when facing danger

A deadly weapon

Tasers, also known as stun guns, deliver a powerful and painful electric shock, rendering an attacker unable to move for a number of seconds. The modern weapons are intended to allow police officers to use this time to apprehend a suspect without sustaining injury themselves.

Tasers have, however, come in for criticism for causing the deaths of a number of people, including former Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson in the UK last year - one of eleven deaths linked to the use of Tasers by the police in the UK alone. London police are currently examining whether officers wish to expand the use of a potentially deadly weapon in the face of the ongoing threat of terror across Europe.

ss/rt (dpa, epd, AFP)

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