Taser use at crisis point in Australia

Horrifying footage of a young Aboriginal boy being repeatedly Tasered, together with damning Coronial findings into the death of a Brazilian student and a Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission report indicating increased reliance on Tasers by police, demonstrate the urgent need for more rigorous police training and more stringent regulation of police use of force. The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, is deeply concerned about these recent developments.

“These tragic incidents once again highlight the need for caution in the use of Tasers. As well as being potentially lethal, Tasers are often misused in circumstances where no force or minimal force is appropriate,” Ms Brown said.  “These are not isolated incidents – multiple deaths and misuse of Tasers point to systemic failures in the regulation and training of police,” Ms Brown said.

There have been at least four recorded Taser related deaths to date in Australia. In each case, there are credible allegations that the Taser use was inappropriate or excessive. In the finding handed down today following the inquest into the death of Brazilian student Roberto Curti, the NSW State Coroner was highly critical of NSW police and has recommended officers face disciplinary proceedings in relation to the excessive force used against the young man.

The HRLC, which was party to a Coronial inquest into the 2008 police shooting of Victorian teenager, Tyler Cassidy, welcomes the Coroner’s recommendations in relation to review of police procedures and renews its calls for a new approach to police training and greater regulation and monitoring of use of force by police.

“To avoid further tragic deaths, there is an urgent need to regulate police use of force in line with human rights law and international standards, making it clear that force is only lawful as a last resort and when strictly necessary”, Ms Brown said.

The coronial findings released today, footage screened on ABC's 7:30 last night and the CMC report, also highlight an urgent need for more effective and extensive training of police in the use of force, including Tasers, particularly when engaging with vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. An October 2012 report by the NSW Ombudsman found that almost 30 per cent of Taser use is against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples, while 41 children aged 15 or under were subject to Taser use by NSW police between 2008 and 2012. The Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission report released yesterday found that over 25 per cent of people subject to Taser use "were believed to have a mental health condition".

“Rather than arming police with more weapons, we need to invest in equipping police to de-escalate conflict through non-violent means and supporting police to better engage with vulnerable people, including young people and people with mental illness”, said Ms Brown.

While jurisdictions such as Victoria have taken a cautious approach to arming their members with Tasers (stun guns that administer an electric shock of 50,000 volts) there has been a growing number of disturbing instances of misuse of Tasers in other jurisdictions such as NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, accompanied by critical reports by oversight bodies such as the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission and the NSW Ombudsman.