Ombudsman slams police for needless use of Tasers
POLICE misuse Tasers one in every seven times the controversial weapon is deployed, a highly critical report by the NSW Ombudsman has found.
The report says Tasers should not be used on people fleeing police or in handcuffs, unless in exceptional circumstances. It recommends that the practice of ''drive stun'' - where a Taser is held against a person without firing projectiles, to cause pain without immobilisation - never be used.
Although the Ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, did not comment on the case of the Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti, who died in Sydney on March 18 after police discharged their Tasers on him nine times, his recommendations address contentious practices raised in a coronial inquiry into his death.
The coronial inquiry heard that police used Tasers to ''drive stun'' Mr Curti and also Tasered him while he was both fleeing police and in handcuffs.
Mr Barbour's report was based on findings of a detailed review of how police used Tasers in 556 cases between June 1 and November 30, 2010. It found 27 cases of inappropriate use in which a Taser was fired.
An extra 53 cases of inappropriate use involved a Taser being armed and drawn but not fired.
Mr Barbour said a police review process failed to identify most of the 80 cases of misuse. He made 46 recommendations to tighten guidelines for Tasers.
His report found that police suspected about a third of the people they had hit with Tasers had been suffering or had suffered from mental illness and more than half had been affected by alcohol or drugs at the time. In three-quarters of cases, the people were not carrying a weapon.
Mr Barbour said that while his report identified a small number of incidents of misuse, it was ''unacceptable to see situations where Taser use failed to comply with police procedures and was unreasonable''.
He said his investigation showed existing procedures for Taser use were unclear, confusing or silent on some important areas. ''The rules need to be clearer and stronger,'' he said.
''In my view, police must be at risk of serious actual bodily harm to justify discharging a Taser. Clear and unambiguous guidance on appropriate and inappropriate Taser use benefits the community, as well as police officers.
''Police must be certain that when they use their Tasers they are doing so lawfully and in line with procedure.''
The Ombudsman recommended a Taser should never be applied to a person for more than 15 seconds in total and should never be used to force compliance. Officers should be in danger of serious bodily harm before they discharged one.
The Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, defended police use of Tasers, saying it was appropriate in most cases.
He said police had used them in incidents where people had threatened to harm themselves.
The Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, said police would respond to the 46 recommendations in the report, How are Taser weapons used by the NSW Police Force?
The police response would include consideration of the recommendations from a coronial inquiry, expected on November 14, into the death of Mr Curti.
Mr Gallacher said he would continue to support the use of Tasers in the NSW police and said they were effective as a ''de-escalator'' of violence. The NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said it was ''remarkable'' that the Ombudsman had released his Taser review without considering the ''disturbing evidence and compelling submissions'' from the Roberto Curti coronial inquiry.
Mr Barbour said his report dealt with more than 2000 incidents up to last November and had been given to the coroner.
''The very tragic death of Mr Curti took place in March this year and was not considered as part of the review.''
A former NSW detective and head of the University of Western Sydney bachelor of policing program, Michael Kennedy, said Tasers should not be a substitute for "good policing and good dialogue and being tolerant and being patient … [Police] need to de-escalate things using non-violent means".
The president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, said Tasers were an important and effective tool in protecting people and controlling violent and dangerous situations.
with Nicole Hasham