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Australian police to use Tasers
by Dale Mills
NSW Police are conducting a trial preparatory to the introduction of Tasers by Australian police. Tasers are hand-held stun guns that fire two metal probes attached to copper wires, delivering a 55,000-volt electric shock that lasts for five seconds.
Victims typically fall to the ground and involuntarily urinate, with all major muscle groups going into spasm. The guns have an effective range of 6.4 metres, with the possibility that inaccurate shooting will hit bystanders.
The new Public Order and Riot Squad will trial the Tasers for six months, according to the February 7 Sydney Morning Herald. The squad was set up on January 1 and is part of the Counter-Terrorism and Public Order unit. If the trial is successful, police minister Carl Scully said, Tasers will be issued to police on general duties.
Premier Morris Iemma said, “We are giving this specialist squad the equipment they need to crack down on criminals and troublemakers”. Being a “troublemaker” is not against the law in NSW.
Iemma added that the stun guns could also be used against individuals “committing serious civil disobedience or serious criminality”.
Chief Superintendent Peter Gillam said the trial Tasers will be used only when there was the “highest level of disobedience”. He added, “It may be an opportunity in these sorts of events to isolate ringleaders [who] need to be removed from the situation”.
A 2004 CBS News report counted more than 40 deaths related to the use of Tasers in the United States. Many of those who died following the use of Tasers had been electrocuted several times with the device. Since 2000, at least five different medical examiners in the US have listed Tasers as a factor in the cause of death.
A study by a senior cardiologist, Arch Broughton, at the Alfred Hospital in Victoria, found that Tasers could cause injury by the electrical barbs disrupting heart pacemakers. Other risks include fractures or head injuries caused by victims suddenly collapsing.
A 2005 report by Amnesty International states that there were 103 Taser-related deaths in the US and Canada between June 2001 and March 2005. Amnesty was also able to examine reports provided by Taser International Inc, which manufactures the weapon, showing that Tasers were used by police officers against children, people who were already restrained and physically disabled individuals. They were also used against distressed individuals, instead of assistance from mental health professionals.
Taser International denies that being stunned can result in death or permanent injury, saying that trials on dogs and pigs have been satisfactory.
Responding to the announcement of the trial, NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said: “There is no independent research showing Tasers are safe but a lot of hard evidence that they kill ... NSW Police introduced capsicum spray as a self-defence tool but before long it was turned into another police weapon. We don’t want a repeat of that trend. The government should ban Tasers from our streets, not expand their use.”
A police spokesperson has confirmed that the use of water cannon is also being considered by the NSW Police public order management committee, according to the February 8 Daily Telegraph.
The Amnesty International report on Tasers can be found here.
The CBS story can be found here.