EDITORIAL TUESDAY 05.10.10.
Two men have died over the past two days when arrested by New South Wales police, one after being subjected to capsicum spray and the use of a baton; the other after being shot with a Taser. In both cases, questions are now being asked about police procedures and whether or not excessive force has been used. In the case of the first man, Steven Bosevski, witnessed have reportedly claimed that it was police who initiated the violence, not the alleged offenders. In the second case, the alleged offender appeared to be mentally disturbed and was armed with a pair of knives. Police claim that under the circumstances they behaved appropriately, and that although the loss of life has been tragic, there was very little else that they could do.
This follows the report from Western Australia over the weekend which has revealed the excessive and inappropriate use of tasers. In one case, a mentally disturbed man was subjected to 14 Taser shots, before being shot again by prison guards a week later. Last year, a man in Queensland died after receiving 28 jolts from a Taser fired by a police officer. Here in New South Wales, the Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has reported that he has found repeated cases of Tasers being used excessively and inappropriately. Mr Barbour said that in “situations where there are multiple officers surrounding an individual, the individual is compliant but is acting in a little way strangely, they may be drunk, they may be affected by drugs but they're not presenting a direct threat… In those cases, we think that the traditional methods of resolving a dispute are far preferable to shooting somebody with 50,000 volts of electric current."
There is clear evidence from other jurisdictions both in Australia and around the world, that the idea of a Taser representing a “less than lethal option” can and does lead to a more casual attitude, and a greater propensity to rely on the weapon as something other than a measure of last resort. In fact, the evidence seems to indicate that it is very easy for a tendency to develop where the use of a Taser becomes the preferred option to resolve a situation quickly, and, in Bruce Barbour’s words, “with some finality.” That might be a viable policy if the Taser really was a “less than lethal” weapon, but the truth is that it is not. Although other factors obviously have contributed to Taser related deaths, it is abundantly clear that a Taser should always be considered to be a “potentially lethal” option. As such it is vital that its use should be governed by guidelines which are similar to those which apply to firearms.