NSW Ombudsman releases telling report on taser use
THE New South Wales Ombudsman has found the rules for Taser use by the state's police officers are "unclear" and "confusing".
Bruce Barbour, who on Tuesday released his second report into Taser use by the NSW Police Force, said the public's concerns about the weapons were justified.
Mr Barbour said the investigation, which made 46 recommendations, supported the ongoing use of Tasers by police officers.
"However, significant changes are needed to improve police policies, procedures, training and accountability systems," Mr Barbour said.
The investigation delved into data on Taser use dating back to 2008. It included analysis of data on 2252 Taser-use incidents between October 2008 and November last year, and detailed assessment of 556 Taser-use incidents between June and November 2010.
Of the 556 incidents Mr Barbour found 476 were "in line with the criteria for use", 53 did not meet the criteria and involved an officer arming but not firing the Taser, and 27 incidents in which a Taser was used unjustifiably.
He said while there was only a small number of incidents in which Tasers were misused, it was still "unacceptable".
"Police officers work in difficult, dangerous and occasionally life-threatening situations," Mr Barbour said.
"Our investigations has shown that Tasers can be an effective way to end a violent and dangerous situation quickly and protect the public and police officers.
"However, they must, at all times, be used responsibly."
Mr Barbour said the investigation looked closely at how each misuse occurred and why the police internal review process failed to identify most of those incidents.
He said the rules around Tasers, which he described as an "intrusive and invasive weapon", needed to be "clearer and stronger".
"In my view police must be at risk of serious actual bodily harm to justify discharging a Taser," he said.
"When Tasers are misused these incidents must be identified, reviewed and where appropriate, action taken.
"It (the Taser) can present significant safety and medical risks and there is justifiable public concern about the potential for unsafe and inappropriate use."
Mr Barbour also stressed the need for "robust accountability" in order to boost the public's confidence in the use of Tasers.
He said while the NSW Police Force's accountability framework was strong, the internal review process contained "errors, inconsistencies and a lack of transparency".
"These failings have to be remedied," Mr Barbour said.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the report's findings were flawed as they did not consider the evidence from the Roberto Curti coronial case.
Mr Curti died after being tasered in the Sydney CBD almost a year ago.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said any recommendations stemming from the inquest would be considered.
He welcomed the Ombudsman's report and said he would formally respond to it in two months.
"This has been a very thorough process and already we have made a number of improvements to the way we use Tasers as a direct consequence of our consultation with the Ombudsman," Mr Scipione said.
>> Click to view taser footage of case studies from the NSW Ombudsman Report. WARNING: The footage on this link includes occasional coarse language and nudity. It shows people being subjected to a Taser and this may distress some viewers.
Some of the key recommendations contained in the Ombudsman's report:
- A Taser should not be applied to a person for more than 15 seconds.
- A Taser must not be used on a person who is compliant or passive non-compliant and use in this way will result in disciplinary action.
- A Taser must not be used in drive stun mode, on a person fleeing from police, or a handcuffed person, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
- An officer must be in danger of serious harm before using a Taser.
- Review each Taser use giving appropriate weight to both subjective (officer account) and objective evidence (Taser cam and independent witness statements).