Pepper spray has little effect on mentally ill: coroner
A coroner who investigated the death of a knife-wielding man shot dead by police outside his Yarraville home said today the use of capsicum spray to try to subdue the mentally ill often had little effect.
Two police officers - senior constables Andrew Ure and James Loader - fired a total of three shots at Jason Chapman, 31, when he came at them with a large carving knife.
Deputy state coroner Iain West said Mr Chapman had been described as "really pumped up and very aggressive" when the officers had their guns pointed at him yelling "Drop the knife, drop the knife".
Police had earlier used capsicum spray and foam on Mr Chapman but it failed to stop him before he was shot dead on October 13, 2004.
Mr West said an inquest into Mr Chapman's death had focused on police dealing with the mentally impaired, the effectiveness of capsicum spray and foam, and whether there was effective management of the scene of the shooting.
The coroner said no police at the scene had contacted the Critical Incident Response Team to help them deal with the highly agitated, mentally ill man.
"The response as to why this had not occurred is unsatisfactory, with it being suggested that police members at that time, may not have been aware of the unit's existence," Mr West said in his findings.
The coroner said not enough had been done to protect the public at the time as no one sealed off the area.
He said that in relation to the capsicum spray, it was found to have had no effect on 5 per cent of people and the foam no effect on 10 per cent of people and a minimal effect on more than 50 per cent of people.
"Individuals who are mentally unwell, or highly agitated, have the capacity not to feel pain when self inflicting injuries ... and accordingly it is believed they don't feel the pain associated with oleoresin capsicum," he said.
"It is understood that the various limitations of both spray and foam are well known to police members.
"What is of concern in this incident is that members appeared to be unprepared when the spray and foam proved ineffective.
"Nevertheless, the chemical agent remains a useful tool to subdue and control combative or violent subjects in many instances."
Mr West said Mr Chapman's family in New Zealand had questioned the appropriateness of one police officer aiming at his chest before shooting him, saying he should have tried to wound him.
"Police training is to permanently disable and regrettably this requires shooting to kill. It is clear a person who is merely wounded may retain the capacity to inflict a serious or fatal injury, by thrusting with or throwing a knife."
Mr West urged police to continually review their training, policies and procedures "in order to keep up with what appears to be an increased prevalence of edged weapons being used by people with symptoms of mental disorder".
He recommended police review the practice of challenging mentally ill people and consider alternative methods that may reduce the likelihood of shots being fired; review training practices in mental health awareness; review policies, procedures and training underpinning cordon and containment practices; review their policy in the use of negotiators; and consider immediately deploying a police dog and handler to a scene where someone is armed with a weapon.