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Britain abuzz over a new plan to arm bobbies with Tasers

Expansion of stun-gun use faces a mixed reaction from the largely unarmed police service.

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Stunner: Britain's expansion of Taser use faces a mixed reception from a largely unarmed force.

Carl De Souza/AFP/FILE

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They're one of Britain's best known icons: helmeted bobbies, or policemen, who make their rounds on a bicycle or on foot, armed only with pepper spray and a nightstick.

But more bobbies may soon carry something more threatening. As police face greater dangers on the job, the government is extending the use of Taser stun guns beyond specialist units to tens of thousands of front-line officers. It's a move that faces resistance from lawmakers, advocacy groups, and even some bobbies – and could change forever the face of one of the world's only largely unarmed police forces.

The debate over the 50,000-volt stun guns – designed to shoot wired darts that temporarily disable suspects – has intensified this week amid two high-profile cases alleging excessive use of force.

"We are still predominantly unarmed," says Paul Davis, a spokesperson for the federation and a 25-year police veteran.

But, he adds, "if you look at the changing face of society, it would appear that more people are willing to challenge authority figures than they once were."

Tasers, he says, enable police to respect the "right to life" in situations where firearms might otherwise by used.

But opposition has grown amid charges that officers may not be properly trained and that the weapons can be used too frequently – and result in death.

In the US, for example, two-thirds of police departments are equipped with electroshock weapons. According to Amnesty International, the guns have played a role in more than 320 deaths in the US and Canada in the past decade. Most wrongful-death lawsuits involving them have ended up favoring police. Canadian authorities, however, are reexamining the weapons after a recent report suggests the jolt might be excessive.

Arms-free tradition

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