In the wake of a recent Taser-related death, local politicians and legal representatives have expressed their concern over the police’s use of the weapon.
On Sunday March 18, Roberto Laudisio Curti died after being shot with a taser by police. His death has reignited debate on the police’s use of Tasers.
City of Sydney Councillor Meredith Burgmann has called for a moratorium on the use of the weapon until it can be guaranteed to not cause death.
Tasers are designed to hit a target with an electric charge and is intended to non-lethally incapacitate a person.
“The history of the Tasers has shown that they are not safe. There have been a number of deaths in Canada, America and now here in Australia. They are obviously not a non-lethal alternative to guns.”
She said she would like to see a review that inspects evidence of the weapon’s use from overseas, as well as a reduction in the electrical charge to ensure it is non-lethal.
Cr Burgmann said certain elements of taser-use protocol are commendable, notably the review system in which a video and audio recording commence when a Taser is unholstered.
“I do see something which is an alternative to guns as very much preferable to guns. I hesitantly say that something which isn’t a gun is preferable,” she said.
NSW Police released a statement after Mr Curti’ death saying Taser usage has declined. It said there had been a 23 per cent reduction in the weapon’s use by the NSW Police from 1,151 reported uses in 2010 to 881 in 2011. It said this comes despite an increase in the number of Tasers currently employed by the police force.
Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke said the weapon has proven to be an effective deterrent against violence, noting that in 70 per cent of instances where it has been unholstered it has not been used.
“Every time a Taser is used, the incident is reviewed by an Assistant Commissioner to ensure the deployment of the Taser was appropriate and in accordance with the guidelines we have in place – widely regarded as the best in the country,” Mr Clarke said.
Sydney councillor Irene Doutney is opposed to Taser use by general duty police, saying the adoption by all police officers is “very dangerous and provocative”.
“Wherever they have been introduced their use on a regular basis increases so that instead of a weapon of second last resort, guns being last, it becomes just another weapon like capsicum spray to use in confrontational situations.
“It becomes a weapon of control that can by used for petty reasons such as a drunk refusing to obey police commands.”
She would like to see the weapon banned and, failing that, for them to only be employed by a select element of the police force and under strict monitoring.
“There have been numerous deaths now and the police just continually make excuses and say that it’s not the Taser’s fault, it’s ‘other causes’. Well the Tasers trigger those ‘other causes’,” she said.
“About a year ago some residents had a rally in Forest Lodge over a park upgrade. These were all families and older people and sure enough the police turned up wearing Tasers and the effect was just to make everyone’s blood run cold,” she said.
Taser usage by the NSW police is regulated within guidelines which state that the weapon can be used to protect human life; protect a police officer or civilian where a violent incidence is occurring or is likely to occur; protect a police officer or civilian in danger of being overpowered or injured; and to protect against animals.
The guidelines also require that an ambulance be provided whenever a person is tasered.
A lawyer from The Redfern Legal Centre, David Porter, said the weapons are overused and the guidelines are currently insufficient.
“It is dry, procedural and doesn’t convey the impact that inappropriate use of Tasers can have.”
The Centre runs a police powers practice and has received complaints about the use of Tasers by the police.
“One especially concerning aspect to us has been situations where a person has been tasered but has been given no medical attention,” he said. “That’s not only a breach of the guidelines but is indicative of a culture among some police officers where they don’t realise the seriousness of applying that much electrical current to a human body.”
He referred to an incident where a person was tasered at a train platform, provided no medical attention and then told to leave.
He said another major issue is the threat of Taser usage to achieve compliance from a non-violent individual which he says is not within the guidelines. He said their usage to prevent escape is also not within the guidelines.
The police need to emphasise that tasers are not the preferred option, and that managing the situation without the use of force is the best alternative, he said.
The Centre hopes the investigations into Mr Curti’s death queries whether any force was required given Mr Curti had been reportedly both pepper sprayed and tasered.