Taser trial sparks row

Issue 
NSW Police have been accused of misleading people about the results of its taser trial.

“A juggernaut out of control” is how lawyer Rob Stary described the Australian Federal Police and ASIO after a judge concluded a case against three Tamils in April 2010.

A spokesperson for the AFP defended its prosecution, saying that the criminal inquiry had been “complex” and “challenging.”

In Queensland, the police commissioner has been reported as saying that he opposed the publication of the Crime and Misconduct Commission report into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee, who had his liver split in two after Sergeant Chris Hurly fell on him in a “complicated” way.

You see, publishing the report would undermine confidence in the police.

Now, in NSW, the police and state government have been less than frank with the truth in regards to their “flawless” roll-out of tasers.

Documents that were meant to be secret have now been released following a 10-month freedom of information (FOI) battle that has lifted the lid of government secrecy on how tasers have been misused.

Now that the full roll-out of tasers to street cops has been achieved and the issue is less politically charged, the secret documents can now be read on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

While the police posing was familiar — after the “exhaustive trial” of tasers everything went “well” — the FOI documents show that there were multiple problems with the abuse of the weapon.

The “trial” was a ploy to rationalise a decision that had already been made: to roll them out. That now explains why the government gave the weapons to every street cop in the state — 8000 police officers have now been trained in its use.

And what training? Police officers are shown being tasered while fellow police officers stand either side to catch the victim. This ignores the thump (on concrete? downstairs?) that the human body makes when its skeletal muscles are paralysed by 50,000 volts administered for five seconds.

Not to mention the hundreds of people who have been identified by Amnesty International as having died in the US following a tasering. Two 16-year old women have now been identified in Australia as having been tasered, one because she refused to move-on as she wanted to wait with her sick friend while an ambulance arrived.

And then there is the “stun mode”, where the gun is held like a cattle prod, and directly applied to the person’s body. How is it that a person can be so dangerous that they need tasering, yet the police officer can simply walk up and touch them with the weapon? It is a form of torture.

Even the NSW ombudsman’s office, an ineffective wet lettuce-leaf of an organisation, recommended that the tasers not be given to more police officers until there was further evidence made available on their safety.

Since its introduction, 14 complaints have been made to the ombudsman’s office about tasers.

One justification for tasers is that they will reduce police shootings with firearms. Since their introduction, the police — with Labor government backing — haven’t released the figures.

President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, told the July 6 Sydney Morning Herald that the police “have been at best disingenuous, at worst they actively misled people about the trial”.

Sylvia Hale, Greens upper house MP, went further. “On 14 October 2008, I asked Commissioner Scipione whether ‘In every instance in which they [tasers] have been used you believe their use has been justified’.

“The commissioner, who was under oath [answering Parliamentary Committee questions], answered, ‘Where a taser has been used, and a person has been tasered, every use to date has been a justified use of the device’.

“In light of what has now been revealed, either the commissioner or the former minister for police should resign or provide very detailed explanations as to how they concluded that it was appropriate to roll-out tasers.”

[Dale Mills is a Sydney lawyer.]

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