The NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has defended the use of tasers after the NSW Ombudsman accused police of abusing the weapons.
Bruce Barbour’s report – How are Taser weapons used by the NSW Police Force? – reviewed 556 taser incidents between June 2008 and November 2010. His investigation was commissioned after two people were killed in taser incidents.
He found tasers were used inappropriately on 80 occasions: 27 times when a taser was fired and 53 times a taser was drawn but not fired. The police review process failed to identify most of those cases as misuse, Mr Barbour said.
Mr Scipione said most use of tasers was appropriate, but welcomed the report.
“This has been a very thorough process and already we have made a number of improvements to the way we use tasers as a direct consequence of our consultation with the Ombudsman,” Mr Scipione said.
Dr Michael Kennedy, head of the policing degree programme at University of Western Sydney, told The Newsroom: “Tasers have no place in mainstream policing as a principle operational instrument. But they do have a place in managing and resolving the very small number of critical incidents that police attend.
“Tasers are not effective in resolving violence. But they can be effective in managing and bring to an end a violent incident.”
The Ombudsman made 46 recommendations to tighten guidelines for tasers, including:
• Avoiding the chest, head, face and groin areas as targets for taser use
• Not using tasers on people who aren’t behaving aggressively
• A new debriefing process involving a senior officer after every use of a taser.
Mr Barbour also called for an end to drive-stunning, in which the taser is pressed directly onto a person’s body before firing. That method was used repeatedly on the Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti, who died in March earlier this year. (Mr Curti’s death was not considered in the report.)
Dr Kennedy said that it was up to the individual officer’s judgement when a taser should be fired.
“The problem with the use of force when batons, capsicum spray, tasers and firearms are used is that in the end it is up to the individual officers judgement. In most instances the police can justify the use of Tasers regardless of how appalling it may seem. However the inquiry into the use becomes one about the different versions of events and not about the actual use,” he said.
The president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, also defended tasers this week as an important and effective tool in protecting people and controlling violent and dangerous situations.
– Charlie-rose Mielczarek