Police forces have been warned to use Taser guns only when there is no other option, as it emerged Taser use has increased in the North East.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Tasers could be a valuable tool in helping police officers manage dangerous situations.
But it warned: “Local forces should guard against the possibility that it is being over-used.”
A report by the IPCC found that Tasers were used 335 times in the North East in 2013.
This included 108 uses by Cleveland Police, 95 by Durham Police and 132 by Northumbria Police.
It was an increase compared to 2012, when Tasers were used 261 times across the three forces.
The figures include every occasion when a Taser is drawn. The weapons were only fired 45 times in the North East in 2013.
But the IPCC warned that complaints about the weapon’s use were rising nationwide,
IPCC Commissioner Cindy Butts said: “The IPCC has always accepted that there are legitimate reasons for using Taser in policing and that it can be a valuable tool in assisting police officers to manage difficult and challenging situations.
“However, in light of the significant increase in Taser use, it is important to ensure that the device is being used appropriately and not as a default choice where other tactical options, including communication, could be effective.
“For that reason, it is very important that each individual use can be justified and that forces closely analyse the extent and type of use.”
Northumbria’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC said: “Northumbria Police force covers one of the largest areas in the country with more than 1.4 million residents.
“Tasers have been used very few times and official figures show that Taser use per 100 officers in our force area is one of the lowest in England and Wales.
“The Chief Constable has set strict criteria for the use of Tasers and they are only ever be used in exceptional circumstances.
“There will always be a rationale for Taser use in Northumbria and I will continue to closely monitor each use of Taser to ensure officers continue to follow the guideline set down for their usage.”
The report also raises concerns about the use of Tasers on people in police custody and on people who are particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental health concerns or young people.
And it also warned that officers were using Tasers in a deliberate attempt to cause pain.
While Tasers usually involve firing two dart like electrodes into a victim, which are connected to the weapon via wire used to conduct an electric charge, the weapon can also be pressed directly against a victim’s skin.
IPCC Commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone said: “The IPCC has major concerns about the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode, where the Taser is applied directly to the body without a cartridge rather than fired from a distance.
“When used in this way it is purely a means of pain compliance. Yet in several of the cases we reviewed, where it was used for the purpose of gaining compliance, it had the opposite effect, stimulating further resistance.”
The IPCC called on forces to provide stronger and clearer guidance on the use of Tasers in custody, and robust monitoring of Taser use by local forces to ensure it is not being used too readily or too often by particular officers or teams.
The number of uses of Tasers nationally have risen steadily in recent years, from 3,128 in 2009 up to 10,380 in 2013.