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Thursday, July 02, 2009

'Taser creep' key risk over time

OK - that's it - we need an Australian taser-usage-creep site!! No ifs, ands or buts about it. As much as I'd like to, I can't carry the world here.

July 3, 2009 - 8:44AM
Marissa Calligeros
Queensland Police say a new stringent Taser monitoring body will minimise the risk of officers becoming trigger-happy.

While a report into Queensland Police's 12-month trial of Tasers - made public yesterday - found the stun guns had been an "effective use-of-force option", it identified "Taser creep" and over-reliance as key risks associated with the controversial weapons.

The report, which concluded Tasers were "safe and effective", came three weeks after a statewide roll-out of the controversial weapons was halted following the death of a man in north Queensland.

Taser creep, as defined in the report, is the risk that, over time, the devices "begin to be used in situations beyond their intended use".

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said he was concerned about officers' tendency to rely on the Taser as a "weapon of choice" rather than properly considering the alternatives.

"Rather than use verbal communication skills or handcuffs or some minor physical engagement they might use a Taser so police come to rely on it more than they need too, over time," Mr Atkinson said.

A Significant Event Review Panel, to be overviewed by the Ethical Standards Command, will soon be established in each region to monitor the use of Tasers as a result of the concerns raised in the report.

"I can assure you that we want to get the balance right," Mr Atkinson said.

However, Ryan and Bosscher criminal defence lawyer Jim Coburn said increased monitoring of Tasers would do little to reduce their misuse.

Mr Coburn initially raised concerns officers would become "Taser happy" at the outset of the stun gun trial in July 2007. The trial was effectively cut to six months by former Police Minister Judy Spence when she announced in January last year the rollout would go ahead.

"This is simply a smoke and mirrors situation," Mr Coburn said.

"Senior officers (in the Significant Event Review Panel) will do their job as they're supposed to be doing right now."

Mr Coburn said he was now awaiting the outcome of the official review of the devices, currently underway.

"But as usual, no word has been given whether the safety risks of the Taser are being investigated, which has been our big concern all along," he said.

"Without this police will become ignorant to the fact Tasers can if not maim people, fatally injure them.

"They going to be using Tasers far more frequently and with far less consideration of the ramifications associated with that."

The report revealed that on 12 occasions, police fired the electric shock weapons multiple times on one person.

All but one of the incidents involved the Taser being used in stun drive mode - where the Taser is pressed directly on to the skin or clothing to deliver acute pain via an electric shock.

On one occasion the offender was Tasered up to 10 times in stun mode; on eight occasions the Taser was deployed three times; and on two occasions one person was stunned five times.

"In many cases sadly those people were suicidal or engaging in self harm such as stabbing themselves with knives or broken glass or had ingested methamphetamines," Mr Atkinson said.

The majority of people shot with a Taser, during the trial, had pre-existing mental health conditions, while three-quarters of offenders were unarmed at the time.

Frontline officers have had access to Tasers since December, and in that time, 12 complaints have been referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) for investigation.

Since the statewide roll-out began in January the Taser has been used 291 times, although the devices have been deployed in stun mode on only nine occasions.

"Increased use of tactical communication skills has also had a significant effect as presentation of the Taser alone to control a situation has risen from 41 per cent to 75 per cent since the start of the general roll-out," Mr Atkinson said.

Under the recommendations made in the report, the Taser's inbuilt memory chip will be audited and Tasers will be included in Ethical Standards Command audits and inspections of stations.

Taser Cams - video cameras attached to the stun guns - will be considered in the review undertaken after the death of Brandon man Antonio Galeano on June 10.

Mr Galeano, 39, died after being shot with a Taser during a police stand off. An on-board computer later revealed the weapon had been fired up to 28 times.

The death prompted Mr Roberts to call a temporary stop to the roll-out of Tasers and review of training received by new officers.

However, those officers who have already been equipped with Tasers will continue to carry them while the Crime and Misconduct Commission and Queensland Police complete the four-week joint review.

Currently, about 1240 of a planned 2000 Tasers are in circulation across the force and 7000 officers have been trained in their use.


Francis L. Holland Blog said...

"Ryan and Bosscher criminal defence lawyer Jim Coburn said increased monitoring of Tasers would do little to reduce their misuse."

I am convinced the above is true. Handing out tasers to police is like handing out brass knuckles. There's no reason the police should have them in the first place, so every use is misuse.

Some people say that these electrocution devices are a necessary alternative to shooting the suspect with a conventional gunpowder gun. I have yet to see a single study of any police force where use of guns went down after electrocution devices became an alternative.

Instead, police continue to shoot people with conventional guns as befor, but the use the taser in cases where would NOT have used a gun, because it would have been outageous.

Take, for example, the case of a boy tased for wearing a baseball cap during a city council hearing, and another young man tased for insistently posing a question during a speech made by Sen. John Kerry.

Is anyone going to tell me that the police otherwise would have been obliged to shoot a man in city council chambers to make him take off his baseball cap? Would the police actually have filled that protester with bullets during a Se. John Kerry speech, with the cameras rolling, and because he wouldn't shut his mouth?

Electrocution devices have the "advantage" that they punish people (which is illegal without a trial first) without leaving blood for the cameras so see.

They are a way to administer pain and punishment without a trial first.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

I don't believe in safety standards for electrocution devices. It's like saying we should develop safety standards for wife beating. People shouldn't be beating their wives in the first place, and any beating entails an unreasonable risk of a perhaps unintended but completely foreseeable death.

Why not arm police with electric staple guns, and then develop safety standards after the fact? Under what circumstances should police shoot a staple into a subject. They're aren't supposed to aim at the head, neck or heart, but will that stop them: No.

Why not arm police with knives and/or lond-handled awls? Being stabbed with an awl (device for putting holes in leather) is unlikely to cause death and won't cause blindness unless you stab someone in the eye. And an awl costs about eleven dollars.

How about high-powered aluminum sling shots?

How about swords. Most people will stop whatever they are doing if they become aware that they are bleeding profusely.

The reason that none of these are tried is pretty simple. They're far less expensive and so there is no international manufacturer trying to push them on police departments. And one of them would be quite as much fun for police officers.

What ever happened to mace? Spraying mace at people was not as much fun, although it was surely equally effective and far less expensive. Alas, a can of mace probably costs ten dollars at most and it's use is rarely really justified by the circumstances, so there's no money to be made in mace.

However, since there is mostly no good reason to use electrocution devices at all, therefore ANY reason offered seems equally good (or bad). "Tasers" are simply a way to let police shoot people more often with less public outcry. And when the victim dies, police can says, "I didn't know that was gonna happen!"