When Can Police Use A Taser? (NSW)
Taser is the brand name of a “conducted electrical weapon” used by New South Wales Police. It is a hand-held device that can temporarily incapacitate a person and cause pain through the application of electrical impulses.
Under the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998, a Taser is classed as a prohibited weapon. Unauthorised possession or use of a prohibited weapon is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. Police officers do not have to have a permit for a prohibited weapon.
Carrying a Taser
A Taser can be used by a uniformed police officer undertaking response policing who has been trained and certified to use the device. This includes police from alcohol and licensing enforcement, general duties, transport, and state crime. Police must not carry the device in a courthouse, correctional centre or detention centre but in some circumstances can carry one in a mental health ward. Recertification in Taser use must be completed annually.
Specialist units such as the tactical operations unit and the riot squad have their own guidelines for Taser use.
A Taser can be used in either probe mode or drive stun mode.
In probe mode, an air cartridge shoots probes or wires into the subject, with short-duration, high-voltage electrical pulses then delivered through those probes or wires. This mode is used when a person is highly agitated, mentally disordered or affected by drugs or alcohol because it renders the person temporarily incapacitated or unable to move with co-ordination.
In drive stun mode, the Taser is applied directly to the body of a person or animal, which causes significant discomfort at the application site without incapacitating the person or animal. This mode should not be used except in extreme circumstances where there is no other reasonable option to avoid the imminent risk of serious injury, or where it is used in combination with the probe mode to complete incapacitation of someone.
The Taser is programmed to emit electrical current for 5 seconds when the trigger is pressed and released. Five seconds is the standard operational period for deployment but the officer can shorten this period by using a safety lever or prolong it by holding the trigger continuously.
Use of Tasers
Under NSW Police procedures, the use of a Taser should be determined according to the circumstances. The officer must verbally warn the subject where practicable.
The device may be used to:
- protect human life;
- protect the officer or others from violence where it is occurring or imminent;
- protect an officer in danger of being overpowered or the officer or others from risk of actual bodily harm;
- protect from animals.
Police should use force that is reasonable, necessary, proportionate and appropriate to the circumstances, and that force should be no more than is reasonably necessary for the safe and effective performance of their duties.
There are many factors a police officer may consider when assessing whether it is reasonable to use a Taser. These include the age and physical condition of the subject; the involvement of mental illness, drugs or alcohol; and the risk to the officer, the public and the subject.
A Taser should not be used:
- for an investigative purpose i.e. the video and audio capability should be used only as part of normal deployment;
- near explosive or flammable materials;
- where there is a likelihood of significant secondary injuries such as from a fall;
- to coerce someone to move;
- against someone who is passively non-compliant (i.e. refusing to move or acting as a dead weight);
- to rouse someone who is unconscious, impaired or intoxicated;
- to target existing injury areas of a subject;
- as a crowd control measure;
- when the subject is holding a firearm;
- against a mental health patient solely to make them comply or submit to accepting medication or treatment.
In some circumstances, it should not be used unless there are exceptional circumstances. This includes against:
- someone in handcuffs;
- a female suspected of being pregnant,
- an elderly or disabled person;
- a child or an adult of small stature;
- someone in a vehicle or using machinery where there is a risk of the vehicle or machinery becoming out of control;
- a subject who is fleeing (Taser use should not be the sole reason for using a Taser);
- anyone for more than one 5-second period.
An ambulance must be called any time a Taser is used on a person.
Any deployment of a Taser by an officer during an incident must be recorded on the official Computerised Operational Policing System database. Footage from the device must also be downloaded. All Taser deployments are reviewed to determine whether the use of the Taser was in accordance with police policy and procedures. If the deployment was inappropriate or not in accordance with policy, the officer can be referred to the Professional Standards Command.
Any action or inaction involving a Taser user that falls outside the procedures or rules of use is viewed as a breach, such as a “Hazardous Practice”. Such practices include:
- accidental discharge of the Taser;
- recklessly aiming or pointing a Taser at another officer;
- failing to properly secure or store a Taser which results in accidental discharge;
- covering the lens of a Taser camera;
- any practice deemed a Hazardous Practice by a Taser Review Panel.
Any officer who accidentally discharges a Taser is automatically suspended from using one. Remedial training is then developed and implemented.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.