: Tasers, police tactical options and non-lethal force

Tasers, police tactical options and non-lethal force

NSW Editorial Committee
New South Wales

‘The police killed our friend and someone needs to pay for what happened.’

Dan Silva, a friend of Roberto Laudisio Curti,

quoted in The Australian, 21 March 2012.

‘I think we need to have a far more rigorous review of the circumstances in which it’s legitimate for a police officer in any state to fire 50,000 volts at a citizen who has not been found guilty of anything. It cannot be the first response. It must at best be a final response brought in by a fly-in squad, not used by every general police officer.’

David Shoebridge, NSW Greens MLC,

on 7:30 Report, ABC TV,  19 March 2012.

Based on media reports of the incident, we know that 21 year-old Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti died early on the morning of Sunday 18 March 2012 after police officers used both capsicum spray and multiple taser applications in an attempt to arrest him. Police were seeking to arrest Mr Laudisio Curti as a suspect in the reported theft of a packet of biscuits. About 30 minutes had elapsed between the theft and the attempted arrest, leading to doubts as to whether Mr Laudisio Curti was guilty, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever the case, an apparently healthy young man died following an interaction with the NSW Police Force.

The NSW Police Commissioner said in 2008, at the time Tasers were rolled out to Local Area Commands,

If this is but one option that gives the police officers in the streets of NSW some alternative rather than to use deadly force, rather than to shoot somebody and killing them, then this is a good option.

According to the NSW Police Force’s Standing Operating Procedure (‘SOP’) for Taser Use, the circumstances in which Taser use is authorised are much broader:

The TASER may be used at the discretion of the TASER User as a tactical option after proper assessment of the situation and the environment to:

  • Protect human life
  • Protect yourself or others from person/s where violent confrontation or resistance is occurring or imminent
  • Protect officer/s in danger of being over powered or to protect themselves or another person from injury
  • Protection from animals.

The ‘Tactical Options Model’ provided in the SOPs also encourages officers to take account of the following factors when determining which tactic and/or weapon to use in a situation: Age; Gender; Size; Fitness; Skill Level; and Multiple Officers/Subjects.

Factors like cultural background and impairment from drugs and/or alcohol don’t appear. These are surely factors which may influence an individual’s behaviour and, in the case of drugs or alcohol, possibly alter a person’s physiological response to being Tasered.

Internationally, opinion is still divided as to whether Tasers can be described as ‘non-lethal’. The NSW Police Force SOPs describe them as a ‘less lethal’ option. The NSW Police Force has announced that detectives from the Homicide Squad are investigating all circumstances surrounding Mr Laudisio Curti’s death, including the deployment of police tactical options, with all information to be provided to the NSW Coroner.

The NSW Ombudsman has confirmed that he has independent oversight of the Police Taser investigation. The Ombudsman Bruce Barbour said: ‘All issues relating to the police involvement in this matter will be the subject of appropriate and thorough scrutiny by my office.’

It is hoped that Mr Laudisio Curti’s legacy will be a thorough review of police Taser use in NSW, particularly the practice of multiple applications of the Taser by one or more officers during the same incident. But before the NSW Ombudsman or the NSW Coroner have even commenced their investigations into the incident, the NSW Police Force is already apparently looking to ‘upgrade’ to ‘X2 Twin Tasers’, which provide a ‘back-up shot’.

NSW EDITORIAL COMMITTEE.

(2012) 37(2) AltLJ 136
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