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Monday, June 30, 2008

Taser trial a 'total farce'

June 30, 2008

Civil libertarians have condemned a Queensland police trial of taser stun guns as a "total farce", renewing calls for a judicial inquiry ahead of a state-wide rollout of the controversial electric shock weapons. The State Government yesterday concluded a 12 month taser trial by police across the south-east, and is now in the process of analysing the results.

Police Minister Judy Spence, who lauded the success of the weapons long before the trial ended, has they will be handed to all frontline officers by the end of the year.

But Queensland Council of Civil Liberties (QCCL) president Michael Cope today described the move as "premature and dangerous". "Until a proper judicial inquiry is conducted taser guns shouldn't be used...the current inquiry is basically a farce," Mr Cope said. "It is quite clear from overseas experiences and our own that police have over-used tasers. They are using them in whatever circumstances they like. In September last year, Amnesty International linked the use of tasers by police in Canada to 290 deaths...and here we are about to release them across the state. "This is entirely premature and dangerous."

However, the police union has hit back at such claims, saying concerns from civil libertarians were completely unfounded. "Tasers will be used in situations where other uses of force would ordinarily be used," a police union spokesman said. "Tasers do a lot less damage than a baton or pistol. This is a sound, reasonable alternative to lethal weapons."

A taser delivers 50,000-volt electrical pulses in a five-second period when fired into a person from up to 10 metres away. The electrical current emitted from the barbed electrodes causes involuntary muscle contractions and immobilises the victim, leaving them unable to fight or attack.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson today declared tasers more effective than capsicum spray. He said the stun guns, known in police parlance as electro-muscular disruption devices, had been used 106 times during the 12 month trial, while the threat of using one had been enough to diffuse the situation on 71 occasions.

Mr Atkinson told ABC Radio this morning both police and people involved in those 106 incidents would have otherwise been seriously injured.

He said a state wide rollout of the stun guns would be one of the best options ever introduced.

Halfway through the trial Police Minister Judy Spence declared tasers a "success" with no negative impacts.

She is expected to make an announcement about the future use of tasers in the next month.

"There is significant work to be done to prepare for the rollout, including training of officers and the provision of appropriately secure storage facilities for stations," Ms Spence said.

"In the interim, (the use of tasers) will be governed by the same guidelines as during the trial, and their use will continue to be monitored and assessed."

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