POLICE in Hampshire drew their Taser stun guns more than 200 times in 2018-19, up from 158 the previous year.

Officers deployed the weapons on a total of 17 occasions.

The figures have been released as the Home Office provides funding for an additional 10,000 officers to carry the weapons in England and Wales.

Police chiefs and representatives for officers insist Tasers are effective at de-escalating dangerous situations.

The devices, which deliver a high-voltage electric shock, were also used to deter suspects. In 46 cases officers aimed and partially activated the Taser so a red target dot appeared on them.

UK police forces first trialled Tasers in 2003, with a full roll-out completed a decade later.

Officers must decide whether using a Taser is legal, proportionate and necessary in a situation.

Use of Tasers, also known as conductive energy devices, has now reached a record high across England and Wales.

Forces discharged the weapons on 2,700 occasions in 2018-19, the highest annual number recorded.

During this time, the devices were unholstered in 23,500 incidents – in most cases aimed at suspects without being discharged – up 39% from the previous year.

The Home Office says the rise may reflect police forces dealing with "more incidents with the potential for conflict", or growing numbers of "CED-trained officers and CEDs available".

Police Federation vice-chair Ché Donald said: "With the Government and an increased number of chief constables backing a wider roll-out of Taser, it is unsurprising there were more incidents where this tactical option was selected.

"But the fact that the figure for instances where the Taser was drawn but not discharged remains so constant reaffirms how effective it can be in de-escalating situations.

"The red dot alone continues to be enough to diffuse the vast majority of incidents without the need to pull the trigger."

The figures also show Hampshire Constabulary officers used force against suspects on 4,266 occasions in 2018-19.

This includes forcibly handcuffing someone, striking a suspect with a baton or using pepper spray.

Superintendent Annabel Berry said: "The distribution of Tasers is based on assessments of threat and risk at a local level and is something that is kept under regular review.

"It has been our ambition that anyone with a clear operational need, who wants to, has the support of their line management and is able to carry a Taser, should have access to one.

"An officer will only use a Taser if there is an immediate risk to life or threat of serious injury to any members of the public or our officers.

"This is stipulated in our regulations, training and guidance.

"In the vast majority of cases it is used effectively as a deterrent, preventing conflict and protecting the safety of the public and officers.

"Taser is only used by qualified officers and we track and assess its use very carefully."

Across England and Wales, there were 428,000 recorded incidents in which a police officer used force.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said force "is rarely used" during officers' day-to-day duties.

"As the public would expect, most forms of restraint used by officers involve the use of handcuffs in order to arrest an individual," he added.

"It is no surprise that force is often used in cases where the person restrained is drunk or under the influence of drugs as experience shows these suspects can often be the most difficult and dangerous."