CHRISTMAS could be a shocking time for criminals after Cleveland Police's armed response unit picked up their new weapons.

The 50,000-volt US-made Tasers will be used from Friday to tackle violent criminals.

The hand-held weapons fire mini barbed probes at a suspect, who is instantly floored by the powerful charge.

The electric current affects the body's neuromuscular system, which causes people to collapse, without lasting injuries.

Assistant Chief Constable Adam Briggs said 40 firearms officers in the force were now trained in the use of the device, which will be carried at all times by crews on armed response vehicles.

"It is a less lethal option," he said.

Police have bought the X26 advanced Taser. The size of a small automatic pistol, it uses cartridges to fire the probes.

The device also has the capabilit y to be used at close quarters, to incapacitate suspects by direct contact with the body.

Mr Briggs said: "Like conventional firearms, the last thing we want is to see these weapons used. But, along with many other forces, we now have this additional weapon, our officers are well trained in its use and it will be deployed if necessary."

Anyone subjected to a Taser hit will receive after-care and medical attention.