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Monday, May 19, 2008

Forget report, [Australia] police will get tasers anyway

May 19, 2008
Sydney Morning Herald

The government won't wait for the Ombudsman's report on the safety of Tasers.

The NSW government is to go ahead and arm police with Taser stun guns even before a state ombudsman's report into their safety has been completed.

There have been a number of Taser-related deaths overseas, including three in Canada late last year. A United Nations committee has declared their use could be a form of torture.

But NSW Police Minister David Campbell says he won't hold off any longer because the public expects action. The government has spent more than $1 million on 229 new Tasers, and 2000 police across NSW will be trained to use them, before they are put in the field at the end of this year.

The decision to roll out the weapons has been taken without waiting for the publication of NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour's report into the controversial devices. After several months in preparation, it is due in six to eight weeks time.

"The reason the government's made this decision (to introduce Tasers) is that governments are elected to make decisions," Mr Campbell said today.

"I received advice from the (police) commissioner, from operational police, that these devices would be useful. The government is about making decisions not necessarily about sitting around waiting for reports."

The ombudsman's report would examine Taser training and safety issues, police operational procedures and the effects of stun guns on individuals, as well as fatal cases from around the world, a spokeswoman said.

A range of agencies, including police from across Australia and overseas contributed to the report, she said.

Mr Campbell has said every Taser would have an in-built video camera with up to 90 minutes of footage in order to hold officers accountable.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione yesterday said Tasers were a "less than lethal option" that would aid frontline police in dealing with difficult situations often fuelled by drugs and alcohol.

The new weapons mark the first time general duties police will use stun guns, with the 50 devices currently in use in NSW restricted to specialist commands, including the Tactical Operations Unit and the Riot Squad.

Mr Scipione has defended the safety of the weapons. "(Tasers) do not affect the heart or other vital organs - that we know. That is what the research tells us," Mr Scipione said. "The Taser in itself is not likely to cause anyone to die."

There would be some cases where Tasers would not be used, for example on a pregnant woman. However, children under the age of 18 could still be shot with one, he said.

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