ALA calls for National Judicial Inquiry into police weapon use

19th Mar 2012

The Australian Lawyers Alliance is calling for a National Judicial Inquiry into the use of Tasers, capsicum spray and other potentially lethal police weapons, following the death of a man in Sydney, yesterday.

ALA National President, Greg Barns, said Tasers continued to be rolled out in Australian jurisdictions, since their 2001 introduction, despite deaths, including yesterday’s incident, being directly linked to their use.

“It is time for a National Judicial Inquiry on the use of Tasers and other police issue weapons,” Mr Barns said.

“Mounting international evidence of their danger was made back in 2008 as part of the Braidwood Public Inquiry in Vancouver, following the death of Robert Dziekanski. At this Inquiry, Taser International CEO, Tom Smith, admitted use of the Tasers was not risk-free.

"And retired justice Thomas Braidwood’s findings that ‘Taser weapons pose a risk of serious injury or death’ from that Inquiry, were upheld by the Supreme Court, which determined that the justice had carefully examined the opinions of medical experts’ .

"Yet you have a situation where another Australian death doesn’t cause the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner, Ken Lay, to pause and consider introducing them now in Victoria.”

Mr Barns said also of concern was the link between their use and the mentally ill.

“A mentally ill NSW man died of a heart attack in the first death in 2002 after threatening police with a frying pan. A scathing report from NSW ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, came six years after the event,” he said.

"Another mentally ill man, Adam Salter, was shot and killed in 2009 by a police woman yelling, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’. Mounting evidence shows confusion may have come from carrying too many weapons, including a firearm and a similarly shaped Taser on her waist.

"Then there was the Alice Springs man in 2009, who died after both a Taser and capsicum spray were used to subdue him following a domestic dispute. The third victim was a Queensland man who died, last year, after being Tasered up to 28 times.”

A Crime and Misconduct Commission Report on Queensland Police Taser use, last year, found Taser-related injuries were increasing despite safety concerns yet more Tasers were being issued to general duties police.

“Tasers continue to be promoted by police and politicians as a safe alternative to hand guns, but clearly they are not. This may be furthering their unnecessary use as a quick fix to an otherwise protracted drawn out stand off with a suspect.”

Tags: Human rights Criminal justice police powers