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Thursday, September 03, 2009

FRANCE: French court suspends Taser use for local cops

The State Council strikes down a law allowing France’s local police officers to carry Taser guns as an alternative to handguns in response to a suit filed by a human rights group.

Paris – A French court Wednesday suspended the use of Taser stun guns for local police, after ruling they had been rolled out last year without proper training and safeguards.

The State Council, the highest court of appeal, struck down a September 2008 government decree allowing France's 20,000 local police officers to carry Taser guns.

Municipal officers joined 4,600 national police and gendarmes who already use the weapon, which packs a 50,000-volt punch that can paralyse targets from up to 10 yards (meters) away, and is intended as an alternative to handguns.

In practice, a few dozen local police stations had started to arm officers with the guns.

But the court, responding to a suit filed by the RAIDH rights group, found that the government had green-lighted use of the Taser without putting in place proper training and evaluation mechanisms.

"The specificities of this new type of weapon require its use to be closely controlled and monitored," said the court ruling.

"That has been the case for its use by national police officers. Short of a similar and sufficiently precise system for local police officers, the decree allowing them to be equipped is cancelled."

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said the government would draw up a new decree incorporating the training requirements for local police.

To date, 4,615 Tasers have been issued to France's national police and gendarme force. They were used 280 times in 2007 without causing serious injury, cutting handgun use by 15 percent, according to police chiefs.

Many officials see the Taser as a safer alternative to the handgun, which local officers have been authorised to carry since 2000.

But human rights activists have criticized Taser guns, challenging manufacturer claims that they are safe and non-lethal.

A December 2008 report from Amnesty International said 334 people had died after being shocked by Tasers between 2001 and August 2008.

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