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Achieving Taser training 'standardisation' across the forces

The curriculum manager for Armed Policing and Less Lethal Weapons at the College of Policing spoke to Police Oracle about the 'pyramid' of learning that's key in this area.

It’s been almost 20 years since Taser was introduced into UK policing, following a trial in five forces.

Initially only available to authorised firearms officers, these restrictions were relaxed in 2007 before permission was granted to all trained officers a year later after a further trial.

The landscape differs in Northern Ireland and Scotland; the PSNI has used Taser since 2008, while it was 2018 before the device was brought into Police Scotland. Plus in those two forces Taser remains a 'specialist' capability with smaller numbers of officers trained to carry the less lethal weapon than in England and Wales where response officers and Specials are now using them.

According to the last known figures, there were 30,548 Taser trained officers in England and Wales as of September 2019 – a number that will have increased after the Home Office forces were allocated £6.7 million to buy an extra 8,155 devices the following year.

By contrast, there is a clamour to grow the numbers in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the forces currently have around 100 and 1,000 trained officers respectively.

Force differences aside, Taser is a constantly-evolving area which requires rigorous training and governance.

Police Oracle spoke to Gary Wedge, the curriculum manager for Armed Policing and Less Lethal Weapons at the College of Policing, to learn more about how this "conveyer belt" is managed.

As the name suggests, his role involves producing a national curriculum for Taser that's designed to "achieve standardisation” across the forces.

A couple of things to note: firstly, chief officers are required to "have due regard" for this curriculum under the 2020 Code of Practice on Armed Policing and Police Use of Less Lethal Weapons, which is issued by the College and enshrined in primary legislation.

Secondly, while the Code technically only applies to Home Office forces, Mr Wedge says those outside its governance - including the PSNI and Police Scotland - tend to comply with it "on a voluntary basis".

Explaining that the national curriculum "goes much further in Taser in that we produce all the training material as well", he is part of a team of four who write all the classroom-based PowerPoints and assessments that officers have to undertake as part of their training.

One member of this team - made up secondees and staff - is solely dedicated to Taser, while Mr Wedge and two others also work on armed policing.

However, their involvement goes well beyond that, as he explained.

“We don’t just sit in some ivory tower and create this material, we also manage and maintain what we call a practitioner group.

"We’ve got in the region of 25 instructors from across the UK who contribute to training design and curriculum design, to make sure it’s grounded and relevant."

This group is key to implementing what Mr Wedge labels a "pyramid" of learning, which is essentially three layers of standardised training.

He said: "So essentially to maintain standardisation, we the College – in conjunction with the practitioner group – run a Taser Lead Instructor course.

"The Taser Lead Instructors then go back to their own forces and teach their instructors, who then teach the users.”

This five-day course, run at various police forces across the UK for around 12 students, features three broad elements: classroom-based learning, training drills and scenario design.

The first of these involves teaching part of the curriculum, which Mr Wedge refers to as a "teach-back".

"So they’ll teach the rest of the cohort and we’ll ensure through that process that there is consistency in what they are teaching from our material and our curriculum," he said.

Those enrolled will also get involved in teaching training drills - “how you’re actually operating the weapon” - while the third element focuses on designing a practical scenario that both complies with the curriculum and suits the specific officer.

Mr Wedge explains: “In other words we’re role-acting those sort of interactions that officers may face on the streets, and we do that with training cartridges. 

"We have a role-actor in a protective suit, and we have a training cartridge that is fired against the suit."

On the importance of making the scenario officer specific, he added: "Don’t forget, it’s not just patrol and response officers that are Taser trained; they could be armed response vehicle officers, they could be detectives, they could be people in a whole variety of roles.

"So a scenario that is relevant to one is not necessarily relevant to all, and a scenario that’s relevant in say east end London might not be relevant in Cumbria."

He added that "we regularly see officers from Police Scotland and PSNI on our courses."

The onus then falls on those who undertake this course to ensure that quality training is passed down the three layers outlined above.

While this wasn't previously regulated, Mr Wedge said the College recruited two new members of staff last year specifically to “quality assure and inspect police forces in respect of their Taser training delivery”.

This was at the behest of the NPCC, which asked the College to extend the inspections they already undertake for armed policing to Taser.

Knowing the numbers is key to understanding the logic that underpins this pyramid approach.

Estimating that there's somewhere in the region of "30-odd thousand Taser users” in the UK, he feels the aim of achieving standardisation is helped by having only "two steps between us at the centre and the end user”.

Mr Wedge's role in the training of Taser users isn't limited to those learning for the first time; he and his team also do “instructor upskill” when new devices come in.

He said: "When a new device comes in, we essentially have to teach two or three instructors from every force that’s adopted it."

In terms of the year ahead, Mr Wedge said they are "actually in the throes now of trying to anticipate forces' needs for 23/24", which involves them informing the College what courses they will require for the next financial year. 

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