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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stun-gun opponents demand new parliamentary watchdog

February 22, 2009
Kate Dennehy, Sydney Morning Herald

OPPOSITION to Taser stun guns in Queensland is growing with calls for a special parliamentary committee to scrutinise their use by police.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said decisions such as the introduction of Tasers were too important to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.

"The [proposed] parliamentary committee should be able to rise above the minister of the day and require the minister and the police department to answer many questions before things like Tasers are let loose on our communities," Mr O'Gorman said.

"Police are increasingly using dangerous paramilitary devices like capsicum sprays and stun guns without any need for a parliamentary vote about their introduction."

He said the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) was not the right body for the job because its role was to investigate complaints, not to scrutinise and oversee.

Tasers made headlines this month when Andrew Bornen, 16, died after an incident at Ipswich. Police said he had been "obviously aggressive" so they threatened to use a Taser on him. He had complied and lay on the road and was run over and killed by a passing vehicle. The CMC is investigating.

Police Minister Judy Spence said in January last year - halfway through a 12-month trial of Tasers - all frontline police would use them. The guns shoot 50,000 volts to immobilise the target.

Mr O'Gorman said Ms Spence had not considered, or had ignored, important evidence against Tasers before allowing their widespread use.

He said reports including those from Amnesty International, the CMC, Victoria Police, the Australasian Centre for Policing Research and the NSW Ombudsman questioned safety and ethics of Taser use.

"Minister Spence went ahead and introduced Tasers when the CMC was publicly criticising the Queensland Police Service report into them last year," Mr O'Gorman said.

Ms Spence's office declined to tell The Sun-Herald which reports she had considered before deciding to stop the trial and introduce Tasers.

The Premier's new website, anna4qld.com.au, said Tasers were a "vital" part of ensuring Queenslanders felt "safe and secure".

Queensland Greens MP Ronan Lee said the use of Tasers was "open to abuse" and "needs to be properly scrutinised by Parliament and an all-party committee is the best way to do this".

"The use of Tasers and the threatened use of Tasers by police should be monitored," he said.

"Tasers are a dangerous weapon and Queensland's Parliament has an important role to play in making sure there are adequate checks and balances … to make sure they are being used reasonably and safely."

Mr Lee, who was part of Ms Bligh's Labor Government before defecting to the Greens last year, said: "The Premier did not appear to be happy with Ms Spence's decision."

Ms Spence's office did not respond to questions about Mr Lee's claims.

However, Ms Spence said that, since January 1 last year, police had drawn them at 46 incidents "which has been sufficient to defuse the situation on 34 occasions".

She said all 12 complaints regarding Taser use last year were referred to the CMC. Five complaints had been "finalised" but details on outcomes were not available.

Tim Meehan, of Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers, supported calls for a parliamentary committee.

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