Deadly weapons: We must ban Tasers

March 24, 2012

The United Nations Committee Against Torture said in 2007 that “TASER electronic
stun guns are a form of torture that can kill”.

These deadly “forms of torture”, which are now part of policing in every Australian state, killed again on March 18.

Twenty-one year old Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti died after six police officers chased him down a Sydney street, capsicum-sprayed him, and then tasered him in the back.

Police say Curti, who was unarmed, “may” have been involved in a robbery of “a packet
of biscuits” from a convenience store. However Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Walton said on March 18: “It’s unclear as to the involvement of this man or the extent of that actual incident.”

On March 24, a worker (who wanted to remain anonymous) at the convenience store told SBS News that police had got the wrong person and Curti had not stolen the biscuits.

Curti’s death is at least the fifth death in Australia after a taser shooting. Other killings include the June 2009 death of mentally ill Antonio Galeano, who was tasered up to 28 times before dying of a heart attack.

Last month, Amnesty International called for restrictions on Taser use in the US. It said more than 500 people had died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers.

‘Non-lethal’ alternative?

Proponents of Tasers argue they are preferable to police using guns when confronted by dangerous criminals.

However, a 2008 US Amnesty report that looked at hundreds of deaths following Taser use found 90% of those who died were unarmed.

The evidence indicates police do not use Tasers as an alternative to deadly force.

Indeed, police guidelines specifically rule out Taser use when someone attacks police with a weapon — the one circumstance where it could be argued that Taser use is a preferable, less lethal choice than a gun.

Multinational manufacturer Taser International (TI) defines Tasers as “non-lethal”. This definition is taken from that bastion of non-deadly restraint — the US military.

The definition doesn’t mean the weapon cannot kill, only that it is not meant to kill.

Even police admit Tasers are not used in place of guns. Acting NSW Police Commissioner Alan Clarke told the March 19 Sydney Morning Herald: “We couldn’t say that every time we use a Taser it has saved us from using a firearm.”

The results of Taser use in the US give no reason to think Tasers are a safer option. A 2009 study into the California police found that in the five years after Tasers were introduced, in-custody sudden deaths rose by more than 600%. There was no change in the injury level to officers and no decrease in firearms-related deaths.

In NSW, Tasers were used 126 times in 2008, rising to 1169 times by 2010.

Compliance and torture

Despite claims of “strict guidelines”, Tasers are being normalised into everyday policing. They are not used in self-defence, but to enforce compliance and even to torture police captives.

Curti had no weapon. He did not attack or even approach police. At most, he may have been involved in a petty crime. But police tasered him in the back as he fled.

In 2008, closed circuit cameras recorded nine WA police surrounding Aboriginal man Kevin Spratt as he was tasered at least 13 times. Spratt, who was unarmed, was already in custody. He had refused a strip search.

Spratt was tasered a further 11 times in a second incident a week later. He ended up in hospital with a punctured lung. Two police involved in the incidents were fined a total of $1950.

In the US in 2008, a handcuffed man, Baron Pikes, was shocked to death after being tasered nine times. His body went limp after seven shocks.

In 2009, a small, 72-year-old Texan woman was brutally tasered by a male police officer. The assault was captured on video.

Last September, a 19-year-old woman who was handcuffed tried to flee Florida police. A police officer within reach of the handcuffed woman tasered her without warning. She fell to the ground, striking her head, leaving her in a vegetative state.

A 2010 WA Corruption and Crime Commission report said police had used Tasers disproportionately against Aboriginal people.

Dennis Eggington of the WA Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) said in 2010 that he knew of several other Taser attacks on Aboriginal people, including a young, heavily pregnant Aboriginal woman who was tasered several times and a man tasered between the eyes who caught fire and suffered serious burns.

Eggington told that the crime commission’s findings proved “our people are being targeted” for Taser use.

Of the five Taser-related deaths in Australia, two of the victims were Aboriginal men.

Immediate ban

The inquiry into Curti’s death is another case of police investigating police. The Ombudsman will oversee the police’s review, but it will be the police who will conduct interviews and take statements from their own.

And they will be investigating an issue — the use of Tasers — that police have clearly expressed support for. This bodes poorly for a just, unbiased outcome.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge said on March 18 that there had been an escalation in Taser use by police, but there has been no cut in firearm use.

He said: “Taser use has not displaced firearms use to make citizens safer, instead it is being used together with firearms in an escalation of police force.”

Shoebridge called for a review into Tasers in NSW, and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said there should be an immediate moratorium on Taser use.

The evidence is clear: Tasers are deadly. They are used overwhelmingly against unarmed people, against the mentally ill, against Aboriginal people and other vulnerable targets.

Police use Tasers in addition to firearms, not instead of. And they are not used in self-defence, but to force compliance.

If anything, the evidence against Tasers has been understated due to cover-ups by police and the aggressive corporate tactics used to roll out Tasers in Australia and globally.

To stop more people being needlessly added to the growing list of people killed, injured and maimed, Tasers should be banned completely.


Australian people have been duped into thinking that tasers are safe. Many excuses are used when people die from taser deployment, mental health issues, heart defects, drug intoxication etc. The important questions to ask are: * Did our government research them appropriately before introducing them , if so we hope they did not use Taser International research, which is biased * Doctors whose research is funded by Taser International, who also have shares in the company should not be used, and who say drug users don't feel pain!!!!! * There is no excuse that taser policy and procedures were not appropriate from the beginning. Australia should be smarter and not follow US explicitly * That not all taser operators volunteered to be tased and that this should have been mandatory * How can anyone know with certainity that people who have been tased die from a heart condition, drug intoxication etc ? Unless they think they are God. There is research to say that these facts were not present for all who died after being tased. So what did they die from? * Would these people have died without being tased at that precise moment? * What if the prime minister's daughter or police commissioner's son died would that make a difference? * It is unethical to torture another human being for compliance sake It is our right to say all of the above and to demand that we are not treated as experiments and to tell our government, you are not looking after your people. Appropriate and positive programmes need to be implemented for mental health issues, supporting families in need, programmes which include family members who are usually the experts in the situation, not the professionals. This holistic approach would help families in need and who have thus far been disrespected and not valued as human beings.
Another deadly weapon in the hands of police, who should never have been given any ... STOP the fear ... STOP the anger... STOP the bullying ... STOP the judgementality. Empower police with conflict handling skills ... Give them blow resistant uniforms and helmets that allows them to get close to disarm and restrain/arrest 'dangerous offenders'. They are not Judge and Jury, they are public servants and should act as such. James Mason
Good point re: a powerful person's child getting killed by a taser; We all know that if a child of someone powerful got killed then the weapon would be questioned. However, as long as working class kids, mentally ill or drug addicted victims of the capitalist system get killed then the weapon and the use of the weapon by the Police force will never get questioned - after all the weapon is there to "protect us" against these types. The point about drug addicts is also a good one. The police have such a negative view of persons that are addicted to for example heroin that it is very scary. They dont consider themselves and widespread alcohol abuse in the police force because this drug is legal after all.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.