In praise of slow arrests

TaserTechnology is assisting police to do their job in ways not contemplated a few short years ago. But unfortunately officers are not always aware of the consequences of their use of the new tools, and their training is often inadequate.

On the propaganda front, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay announced last month that his officers would begin using Twitter to shame offenders such as hoon drivers. But in response, it's likely the hoons will step up the practice of glorifying their exploits on YouTube.

Perhaps most worrying is the increased deployment of tasers. Last week, Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission announced an investigation of the use of the technology by the state's police. This follows a taser incident last month in which a 36 year old man from a remote desert community caught on fire and suffered third degree burns.

There have been 68 complaints alleging police misuse of tasers since they were introduced into WA in 2007. Four of these complaints have been upheld and a further 24 are still being investigated.

Meanwhile in Victoria, the Office of Police Integrity tabled a report in state parliament on Thursday which outlined investigation findings that police are inadequately trained to deal with volatile situations, particularly those that involve mental health or drug and alcohol problems.

As the availability and use of tasers becomes more widespread, they are being seen as a fast and easy means of restraining such individuals. But 'fast and easy' is not what's needed for a suitable response that properly respects the rights of the individuals being apprehended.

Quite the opposite. Traditional constraints such as handcuffs were far better suited to officers acting cautiously and reflectively in difficult situations. Tasers expedite the apprehending of the alleged offender, and it would seem to follow that they make hasty, unreflective judgments more likely.

That said, if the alleged offender dies during the course of the attempted arrest, there is potentially more information available to the coroner to decide whether the outcome was just.

For example, Taser Cam is an optional attachment which initiates a video recording when the safety catch is released. The file can be downloaded for storage and viewing. The result is a record of the subject's behaviour before the weapon is deployed. It is a valuable investigation tool, and also useful for training and practice.

Last week's Victorian Office of Police Integrity report was critical of the state's police administration for so far failing to purchase the Taser Cam option. This would appear to suggest that Victoria Police gives a lower priority to accountability. Accountability is essential if the the ability to make cautious and reflective judgments is lost for the sake of the expeditiousness of tasers.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: tasers, arrest, police, Commissioner Ken Lay, Office of Police Integrity, Corruption and Crime Commission



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