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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Go-ahead for Taser abuse

July 2, 2009

Queensland Government's Taser Trial Report gives a green light to further misuse, says critic Peter Pyke

“No Queenslander can take any comfort from the Taser Trial Report,” says former-MP and former-Queensland Police Service sergeant Peter Pyke.

Pyke says that the Report is flawed and one-sided, but - despite this - the evidence it presents is alarming.

Pyke said that a perusal of the report not only confirmed that Queensland Police had commonly misused Tasers, but also made the case that there is little being done to prevent such misuse.

“Seventy-five per cent of people Tasered in Queensland during the trial period were unarmed,” says Pyke.

“Three were only 16 years old.”

“Fair-minded Queenslanders should be questioning why nearly 15 per cent of Taser deployments occurred inside police stations or watch-houses,” says Pyke.

“In nearly 10 per cent of cases, the Taser was used a number of times, and on one occasion was used up to 10 times on an individual,” says Pyke.

“In 17 per cent of cases, people who were already restrained in handcuffs were Tasered,” says Pyke.

“While 16 per cent of people Tasered were later placed in psychiatric care, the greatest percentage – 62% - were charged only with minor public order charges,” says Pyke.

“Queenslanders were told our police officers needed Tasers for Life or Death situations,” says Pyke. “This Report makes a mockery of that.”

“The Report confirms that young people between 20 and 29 are the most at-risk age group for being Tasered by police, but it is indigenous Queenslanders who are at the highest risk,” says Pyke.

“Of all deployments recorded on the data downloads of the Taser, a whopping 20 per cent was unexplained, and it was noted in the Report that it was possible these usages represented possible unreported deployments against individuals,” says Pyke.

The report itself stated that the “full circumstances of an incident may not have been clearly documented”.

Where data about Taser data was unavailable, the Report could only find that this was due to ‘officer error’.

“Where complaints were received about inappropriate Taser use,” says Pyke, “one investigation was incomplete some 18 months after the complaint was made, and even though it related to a young man who was Tasered more than once inside a police watch-house, the Report sanctioned that highly inappropriate usage.”

“In another case, when a homeless man made a complaint, no records of the event could be located,” says Pyke.

Pyke says the Report is clearly flawed in its reliance only on subjective police sources, which includes hit-and-miss data collection by police themselves and on self-serving police reports which had been found to be untruthful in at least one instance where CCTV footage of the incident contradicted the required Significant Event Report furnished by the officer involved.

Where objective data such as CCTV footage and witnesses statements were available to reviewers, this data was ignored by reviewers.

“Despite this, the Report confirms my fears,” says Pyke.

“No where in the report does it state that Tasers can kill,” says Pyke, “and nowhere in the report does it state that Tasers are for Life or Death situations, only.”

“The Report makes no useful recommendations about capturing reliable data via an independent auditing method. It leaves it up to internal police processes to capture and record all data. The Report itself confirms that is unwise,” says Pyke.

Pyke says the Report would be a ‘green light’ to the cowboys and cowgirls in the Queensland Police Service who might judge that they may misuse Tasers with impunity.

“There is a place for the Taser on the weapons-belts of Queensland Police,” says Pyke, “but it is a potentially lethal weapon which should only be used in Life or Death situations.”

Pyke maintained his call to Police Minister Neil Roberts and Commissioner Bob Atkinson to meet with him and other interested parties to discuss Tasers.

“Queenslanders should also remember that since the trial concluded, there have been two Taser-related deaths in Queensland, and no clear findings about those deaths have yet been published,” says Pyke.

Pyke urged Queenslanders to read the Report itself, available at the Queensland Police Service website.

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