Saturday, 22 March 2008

Taser trial extended in Qld

The Queensland Government is widening its trial of Tasers or stun guns in the state.

Dutton Park officers in Brisbane's inner-city will be armed with Tasers for three months as part of an ongoing assessment of the weapons suitability for general use in the Queensland Police Service.

Police Minister Judy Spence says until now the trial has been in three regions and Tasers have only been issued to officers with higher ranks such as senior sergeants and inspectors.

"So by giving them to first response officers of all ranks we will get a lot more information the circumstances of them being used," she said.

"[The trial will show] whether the training has been adequate and whether the reporting arrangements are satisfactory."


Stunning haste on equipment

March 14, 2008

CRIMINAL defence lawyers hold growing fears about the indecent haste in the Queensland Government's decision to issue Taser stun guns to all front-line police.

Police use of Tasers has become an almost daily news event in Queensland since a trial of the weapon began in July last year.

Barely six months into the trial, after police and youths clashed at boozy Australia Day events on the Gold and Sunshine coasts, Police Minister Judy Spence suddenly announced that the trial was a success and Tasers would be issued to all front-line police in July.

The apparent impulse decision to satisfy demands for the weapon by the Queensland Police Union was just the start of fears about the use of Electro Muscular Disruption Devices, better known as Tasers, which deliver a paralysing 50,000-volt punch.

The electrical jolt from the barbed electrodes causes involuntary muscle contractions and immobilises the targeted person..

Queensland's rushed decision seemed to ignore growing international evidence that Tasers are dangerous, are regarded by the United Nations as a torture weapon and have caused deaths overseas. Amnesty International says 300 people have died around the world after being zapped with a Taser and wants the weapon's use to be suspended pending an investigation.

Last month Queensland's police watchdog, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, warned that the stun guns cause "considerable" and "acute" pain. It also acknowledged overseas research indicating an over-reliance on the use of Tasers by police as well as its links to more than 150 deaths in the US.

Our State Government has effectively ignored calls for reassurances that proper training and safeguards on Taser use would be imposed. This comes after a police admission that they were investigating a complaint alleging a police officer had repeatedly used a Taser on a handcuffed man in the Cleveland watchhouse to stop him from swearing.

The Queensland Government and police have ignored criticism of the weapon and instead push the image that the Taser is totally safe.

Worrying questions linger. We still don't know how thoroughly the police will be trained in the use of Tasers. Nor do we know what are the restrictions on use, if any, and who is monitoring their use to make sure the use of Tasers is not abused.

There is a real risk Queensland police will become "Taser-happy".

The Cleveland complaint, if it is proved, raises serious questions about police attitudes towards the use of Tasers. Even one instance of a police officer unnecessarily using a Taser should be enough warning to the police and State Government that they should pause and rethink the decision to issue them to all front-line staff

Also worrying about the Cleveland incident is that it suggests use of a Taser for all the wrong reasons. Unless there are strong controls, there is a risk some police might regard their use at the same level as using handcuffs.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture committee recently linked the use of Tasers to torture. The UN committee was reported as saying the use of the weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture, and studies showed the Taser was dangerous and can cause death.

We don't need them here and the State Government should review its decision to issue them.

At the very least it should halt their issue until all complaints are thoroughly investigated and police are thoroughly trained in the use of the weapon.

Tim Meehan is a criminal defence lawyer and chief executive officer of Brisbane-based law firm Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers.

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