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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Australia: Police set to ban use of non-video tasers

October 5, 2010
Joe Hildebrand, The Daily Telegraph

NSW Police will eliminate Tasers that do not automatically record video of confrontations, amid allegations the state has suffered its first stun gun-related fatality.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione was quick to defend his officers, saying the decision by a constable to use his Taser "may have saved their lives".

He said the inbuilt Taser video backed up the decision to fire on the Sefton man, who came at the officers wielding a pair of knives and was brought down just 2m-3m away.

"I certainly believe the consequences could have been tragic for one or both of the officers involved" had he not fired, Mr Scipione said.

However, many of the Tasers still in use do not have the video to verify that they are being used appropriately. These devices will be removed entirely within eight weeks to eliminate doubts.

The only Tasers to be exempt from the purge will be those used by the tactical operations unit, which handles counter-terrorism and hostage situations. These have modern X26 Tasers but with the optics removed.

Police were at the Sefton house, in Sydney, over allegations that the man had raped a female inside the building.

The fatality came within 24 hours of another death in police custody when a grand final reveller who had been asked to leave St George Leagues Club died after being hit by police batons and capsicum spray.

While police say that man was hit only in the thighs and legs, the Taser death has reignited debate about the safety of the controversial weapons which have been rolled out to all frontline police officers.

Ombudsman Bruce Barbour is considering a review of procedures in using the stun guns.

"We would look at how Tasers are being used and whether they're being used appropriately," he said.

Police are now using Tasers more than twice a day on average. Tasers were drawn only 440 times in the 12 months to October 2009.

However, in the nine months since, as the rollout has increased, that number has jumped to 619 - an average of 825 a year.

Police said in about six out of 10 cases, Tasers were actually not fired and the threat of their use on most occasions was enough to subdue the suspect.

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