The police want wider options for using grenades and tasers

Meinhard Pulk
, ajakirjanik
If until now the police have only been able to use the taser in situations where a person's life is in danger, in the future they want to use it also in cases of lower risk.
If until now the police have only been able to use the taser in situations where a person's life is in danger, in the future they want to use it also in cases of lower risk. Photo: Kristjan Teedema
  • Rapid reaction teams and special units could have the right to use grenades.
  • Tasers are less dangerous that gas or batons. Yet they are regulated as strictly as firearms.
  • Ukraine and the hybrid situations there serve as an example.

The initial plan to amend the weapons act in order to limit the opportunities for Russian citizens to apply for a gun license took on wider dimensions with the initiative of the Ministry of the Interior: for example, they want to expand the police's ability to use grenades and tasers.

Already in May, the Legal Committee of the Riigikogu initiated a draft to amend the weapons act, which guarantees foreigners the right to apply for a firearms license only in case of good command of the Estonian language. The Minister of the Interior, Lauri Läänemets (SDE), added a number of other accompanying issues with his proposed amendments.

For example, they ministry wants to introduce a compensation system for tolerating the vicinity of a training ground of the Defense Forces and the Defense League. Läänemets told Postimees that it is directly related to the expansion process of the Nursipalu training ground, which is currently under discussion. The ministry also wants to expand the use of silencers in hunting.

The right to use grenades

However, the biggest strain between the ministries is caused by the desire of the Ministry of the Interior to expand the capacity of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Internal Security Service (ISS) in combating larger-scale threats.

Accordingly, the ministry wants to grant the internal security agencies the right to use up to 40 mm fragmentation and general purpose grenades, as well as hand grenades, which have lethal force and are classified as combat ammunition. According to the explanation, they would be used, for example, to break barricades set up by criminals or to prevent, stop and detect terrorist crimes and crimes related to terrorism, etc. These weapons would not be part of the equipment of a regular patrol, but are intended for the police special units and rapid response teams dealing with more complex operations.

That is why the Ministry of the Interior proposed that the head of the state of emergency could give the PPA and the ISS the right to use military weapons if it is unavoidably necessary to ensure security and constitutional order or to prevent threats to these. Of course, the proposal is motivated by the events in Ukraine, where military structures are not always involved in solving hybrid threats.

“The involvement of the Defense Forces and the Defense League is of central importance, but practice shows that in the case of rapidly developing situations, the involvement may not be realistic in terms of time, and the neutralization of the threat requires quick and immediate action,” Läänemets said in its letter. He stated that the means currently used by the internal security agencies may not be sufficient to overcome a threat of a military nature.

The taser is safer

They also want to relax the restrictions governing the use of electric shock weapons. Until now, the police have had the right to use a taser in cases of heightened threat, i.e. when a person's life is threatened. With the new amendment, it would also be possible to prevent significant threat: that is, endangering a person’s health rather than life.

"Compared to a gas spray, which can cause long-term vision and breathing difficulties, or a telescopic baton, which can cause numerous and severe bodily injuries, the effect of an electric shock weapon is very short-term, which is why enabling the wider use of an electric shock weapon would be much more effective in certain situations and would cause less suffering to a person," Mait Siigur, the head of PPA's preparedness and response office, told Postimees.

The use of tasers is currently regulated by law at essentially the same level as firearms. At the same time, the use of gas and telescopic batons is not regulated at all by the law enforcement act, Siigur pointed out. In essence, the current law grants the option of using weapons which cause more suffering in more numerous situations with a lower level of danger than electric shock weapons, Siigur pointed out the paradoxical situation.

An electric stun gun can be used to repel an attack from a longer distance than a telescopic baton, while the use of gas often results in harm to police officers or third persons nearby in addition to the offender, Siigur said. Therefore, expanding the rights for using tasers would give the police officers a safer and more effective option.

The advantage of the taser over gas or baton is also the fact that when it is used, a log file is created and all the actions of the police officer are recorded. "This ensures very good supervision over the use of the weapon, which helps to ensure that the electric shock weapon is not used too easily or without a legal basis,” Siigur said.

Seeking for common ground

The legal committee of the Riigikogu also discussed the amendment proposals of the Ministry of the Interior at its Monday sitting. The head of the committee Heljo Pikhof (SDE) told Postimees that they will hear the Riigikogu factions’ opinions next and the committee will form its opinion accordingly. According to her, it is still too early to take a position on the ministry's ideas.

It will probably require more effort for the coalition to reach a consensus on the content of the bill because Lea Danilson-Järg (Isamaa), the Minister of Justice, did not spare on critical remarks regarding the amendments proposed by Läänemets.

She had several substantial doubts – whether a taser is actually safer than gas or a baton, because a taser dart can hit the eye or a person can be hurt when falling down. Or whether the right to use military weapons would promote the continued militarization of the police. Moreover, according to the minister, such changes would make it difficult to distinguish between the tasks of the police and the defense forces. In summary, however, Danilson-Järg’s biggest complaint is that all changes related to armaments are compressed into a single bill. She told Postimees that although she is not directly opposing any of the amendments, some of them would need a deeper analysis.

Läänemets emphasized that the parliamentary committee has the right to eliminate or include the amendments proposed by the Ministry of the Interior from the bill at its discretion. “Our duty is to submit the proposals to the parliament, and the parliament can see whether there is something they want to consider or if they have their own opinion."

If the Ministry of the Interior wants the PPA and the ISS to have the right to use military weapons under special circumstances, the Ministry of Defense has said in its reply that this should only be possible in the future with the approval of the Minister of Defense. Läänemets did not see a direct problem here. He has also discussed the issue with Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (RE). In his opinion, the essence of the matter is that the police must be able to ensure public safety in emergency situations. "Whether it is done by the government, one minister or another – for God's sake, we just have to agree on the best way to ensure this safety.”