Aussie report warns against Tasers

MELBOURNE - General duties police in Victoria should not be allowed to use Taser stun guns when the state's specialist squads often misused them, a new report says.

The report says specialist police in Victoria had misused Tasers against people with mental illnesses 85 per cent of the time, on unarmed people 28 per cent and unarmed, handcuffed people in jail cells or interview rooms three times, since 2004.

The report, titled Taser Trap: Is Victoria falling for it? by the Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres comes after a three-year legal fight was won by the federation to obtain official police data on Taser use and policies.

"The use of Tasers on an unarmed person who's already in police custody appears to be a clear breach of Taser use policy," federation executive officer Hugh de Kretser told AAP.

"If these highly trained officers have problems with misusing the Tasers, then the Victorian public should be gravely concerned about the expansion of Taser use to all general duties police."

The report comes after the death of a man shot with a police Taser in Sydney last week and a police watchdog report revealing also last week that Western Australian police used a Taser on an unarmed man 13 times in Perth.

In Victoria, a 12-month trial is currently running in which general duties and traffic police working in the regional towns of Bendigo and Morwell have been issued with Tasers.

Supporters of Tasers argue they are a safe alternative to guns and in highly volatile situations prevent death or serious injury.

However many civil liberties groups oppose them, with Mr de Kretser saying Tasers have killed people in Australia and overseas and led to increased rather than lower numbers of shootings.

Police shootings had increased since the introduction of Tasers in Western Australia, and areas in the US and Canada.

"In WA, when Tasers were introduced to general duties police the incidents of police shootings has doubled since that introduction," Mr de Kretser said, quoting last week's Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission report.

Taser International denies any links between their products and fatalities.

However Mr de Kretser said those most at risk of death from Tasers, including people with poor mental and physical health or who were drug-affected were more likely to have Tasers used on them.

He said Victoria Police had failed in its training for confrontations, with the 2008 police shooting of teenager Tyler Cassidy one incident due to be investigated at an inquest starting next week.

"They are taking steps to address it, but there's no proper evaluation process to give the public confidence that what Victoria Police say they're doing to address these deficiencies is actually being done," he said.

Comment is being sought from Victoria Police.


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