Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
The Singapore police can use force in different scenarios, but how and when do the police decide which force technique to apply?
This article will discuss the police use of force with reference to real-life examples in Singapore. It will cover:
What are the Different Types of Force Techniques Deployed by the Police?
Depending on the situation, the police may employ non-lethal and/or lethal force.
Non-lethal force includes the use of verbal commands, unarmed tactics, batons, shields, and tasers. The following describes some equipment used in the exercise of non-lethal force:
- Baton: A baton is a cylindrical club used for defence and counterattack. Police officers use the Straight Extendable Baton (SEB) to execute handling techniques.
- Shield: Officers use transparent shields to protect themselves during riots. They are used with other riot gear such as batons and tear gas grenades.
- Taser: The taser is an electroshock weapon that discharges a volt charge from a distance. This helps officers to subdue non-compliant persons in a non-lethal manner.
On the other hand, lethal force refers to the use of firearms such as pistols which can cause serious injury or even death. Officers are trained in the use of service pistols to handle situations requiring the use of lethal force. The pistol also features a safety mechanism to prevent accidental triggers.
What are the Situations That Require Police Intervention/Use of Force?
Police officers generally use force to make an arrest or handle threats to life and/or property. In making an arrest, force is used when the suspect is resistant or becomes violent. The police will not apply any unnecessary force if the suspect is compliant.
Nonetheless, real-life situations are often unpredictable and police officers will have to assess and react accordingly.
When Might These Techniques/Use of Force be Required?
When applying force techniques, police officers have to consider the proportionality of the force to be applied to the perceived threat, alongside the safety of the subject and the people in the vicinity and themselves.
Proportionality refers to the idea that the use of force must not be overly excessive in relation to the threat. For instance, using a baton in the course of arresting a shoplifter who is violently resisting the arrest is considered a proportionate response. Discharging a firearm at an unarmed shoplifter, however, is too excessive.
Officers often have to perform these judgements within seconds, without the benefit of a detailed analysis.
Use of non-lethal force
In cases where the suspect is violent (whether armed or unarmed) and non-compliant, police officers may choose to apply defence tactics, batons or tasers to first de-escalate and contain the situation. The following cases illustrate the use of non-lethal force.
Use of tasers
Case study 1: Taser used on a woman to stop her from further injuring herself
On 19 September 2022, a woman was seen brandishing a knife outside St Hilda’s Secondary School. When the police arrived, the woman stabbed herself in the abdomen and threatened to further harm herself. The woman disregarded verbal commands to withdraw the weapon and the police discharged a taser to prevent the woman from further harming herself and potentially others.
In this case, the police officer considered the safety of the subject before employing non-lethal force to stop the harmful act.
Case study 2: Taser used on Beach Road chopper
On 14 April 2022, the police responded to a case of assault involving a chopper at 75 Beach Road. The attacker was slashing a woman with a chopper. Members of the public even intervened to stop further harm to the victim. When the suspect was located, police officers subdued him by deploying a taser on him. This illustrates how non-lethal force can subdue an armed and violent attacker.
In this case, the police had managed to corner the attacker within a restaurant where the safety of bystanders was not compromised. The suspect was also standing still with his arms outstretched. Deploying a taser is thus an appropriate and proportionate response.
Use of police shields
Police shields are primarily defensive in nature and are often used to deal with riots. They offer police officers protection against melee attacks and projectiles. By standing in rows, officers can form a wall with their shields against rioters.
Outside of riots, police shields may also be used when engaging in dangerous scenarios in general. For instance, in the knife-wielding incident outside St. Hilda’s Secondary School, a shield was used as a precautionary measure.
Use of lethal force
If the situation escalates and there is an imminent threat of grievous hurt or death, officers might have to take decisive action and deploy their firearms to stop the threat. For instance, the suspect may be charging at a police officer with a weapon, thereby posing an immediate threat of hurt or death. The following examples illustrate situations where the police have used lethal force.
Case study 1: Knife-wielding man shot at Bendemeer Road
On 23 March 2022, a man armed with a knife was shot in the chest by the police and died. This was after he refused to drop his weapon despite multiple warnings and being tasered three times. There was an imminent threat to the safety of the officers when the man continued to advance towards them after being tasered.
Two key points should be noted:
- Effectiveness of tasers: A taser is not always fail-safe. Its effectiveness varies from person to person and depends on where the taser probes land on the subject. If the officer or subject is moving, the probes may miss or get dislodged. Therefore, factors such as the degree of movement and the attire of the subject will affect a successful deployment.
The man who was shot dead was also known to be a drug offender. While inconclusive, experts have reported tasers to be less effective against individuals on drugs who are high on adrenaline.
- Location of shot: Generally, police officers are trained to fire at the centre of the body to stop an imminent threat of grievous hurt or death. This increases the probability of hitting the body of the suspect and reduces the risk of injuring innocent bystanders.
Case study 2: Driver shot dead by police near Shangri-La Hotel
On 31 May 2015, a driver was stopped for a vehicle check outside the Shangri-La Hotel where a major security summit was being held. When asked to inspect the boot, the driver accelerated and crashed through police barricades despite multiple warnings to stop. This posed an immediate threat to the officers and the police opened fire at the driver to stop the vehicle.
Apart from how the car could have reached the protected area in seconds, there was also the possibility of explosives in the car. Lethal force was thus applied to stop the imminent threat to public safety.
Are There Any Guidelines That the Police Need to Note Before Using Force?
The police are subject to several laws and guidelines when using force.
No unnecessary restraint
Although a police officer may use all reasonable means to arrest an evading or resistant person, section 76 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) provides that the person arrested must not be restrained more than necessary to prevent their escape.
Use of lethal force to prevent a terrorist act
Section 63 of the CPC empowers a police officer to act in any manner (including using force to cause grievous hurt or death) if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that:
- The person is about to perform a terrorist act; and
- Such an act by the officer is necessary to apprehend the person.
Police protocols and training
Police officers also have to follow strict protocols before employing force. For instance, verbal warnings are first issued and the police may have to consider varying degrees of force to apply, with lethal force usually being the last resort. Officers also have to undergo annual tests and training to remain competent in the use of firearms and tasers.
Of course, these examples and guidelines are not exhaustive. Police officers are trained to handle and follow different rules in different situations.
Are Members of the Public Permitted to Carry Tasers, Stun Guns etc.?
The carrying of weapons like stun guns and tasers is prohibited in Singapore. These items are strictly controlled by the police and a licence is required for import, export or possession.
For more information, you can refer to this article on laws on prohibited, replica and self-defence weapons in Singapore.
What Can I Do If I’m in a Situation Where a Person is Carrying a Weapon in Public?
If you spot someone carrying a weapon in public, the first step is to move quickly and quietly away from the person, and locate a safe place to hide. You should then call the police at ‘999’ and provide details about the person and the location.
Make sure to remain in a safe place away from the subject. You should not try to take matters into your own hands or intervene, especially when the subject is armed and/or dangerous.
Cases of violence involving dangerous weapons have shown us that our safety cannot be taken for granted. The police may have to use varying levels of force (non-lethal or lethal) to respond to the threat. Unlike non-lethal force (eg. batons and tasers), lethal force is generally used as a last resort to respond to imminent threats of serious harm. Police officers have to consider the proportionality of force to be applied to the threat, as well as the safety of all parties in the area.
Should you encounter a dangerous situation where someone is armed, violent or dangerous, please remember to stay safe and contact the police.
If you are charged with a weapons-related offence, you should engage a criminal lawyer for legal advice and representation in court if necessary.
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