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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Police slammed over Taser plan

November 19, 2008
Dylan Welch, Sydney Morning Herald

The state Ombudsman has slammed a police plan to roll out stun guns, saying the weapons should only be used to deal with "extreme situations".

"Police need to be extremely careful using Tasers," NSW Ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, said. "They are not a non-lethal weapon - they are just a less lethal weapon."

Mr Barbour's comments came as he released a special report into the use of Tasers in NSW today. The report analysed the use of Tasers by the police riot squad and Tactical Operations Unit between 2002 and 2007.

The State Government sidelined the Ombudsman in relation to Tasers when the stun guns were rolled out to general duties police across the state's 81 local area commands more than a month before today's report.

Mr Barbour called for a two-year moratorium on any further roll-out of the controversial weapons, pending a further independent review. "Current police standard operating procedures relating to Taser use are inadequate," he said. "There are known risks with using Tasers, and police must receive clear, comprehensive and consistent guidance to ensure safe and effective use of this weapon." Mr Barbour said "alarm bells" were already ringing as a result of the roll-out to general duties police, with four of the first five deployments being used in "drive stun mode", where the weapon is activated and pushed into a person's body. "This rings alarm bells for me, as we are already seeing a completely different type of use by general duties officers."

The report found that those who were subjected to Taser use were typically male, Caucasian, under the age of 40 and with mental health issues. More than half were intoxicated when they were Tasered or had a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

In a particularly worrying finding, the report states that one person died of a heart attack 12 days after being shocked by NSW Police. "The man had a number of health problems, including heart disease, so it is unclear what role, if any, the Taser application played in his death."

The report makes 29 recommendations for Taser use including giving guidance to officers about the risks the weapons pose.

Comment is being sought by the NSW Police Force.

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