Fresh taser debate sparked in Australia

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Fresh debate has been sparked over the use of Tasers by police, after inquest findings over the death of two men in Australia were handed down today, Cecilia Lindgren reports.

Debate around the use of Tasers in Australia continues as findings from the inquests into the Taser-related deaths of a Queensland man and a Brazilian student were handed down today.

Taser supporters say they are a less than lethal and safer alternative to guns, however critics claim their use is abused by police.

Figures obtained by New South Wales Greens MP David Shoebridge indicate the introduction of Tasers has not reduced the use of firearms.

“So what we have seen is no displacement of guns, we're not seeing Tasers used instead if firearms, we've just seen a whole new class of corporal punishment, physical punishment, being delivered by police through the use of 50,000 volts at the end of a taser”, he said.

Professor of Criminology at Monash University, Jude McCullogh, argues police should improve their negotiation skills instead of resorting to Tasers.

“The problem with less than lethal weapons such as Tasers is that police come to rely on them as a technical quick-fix and move away from those negotiation skills that are often far more effective, particularly with people who are high on drugs or going through a psychotic episode relating to a mental illness.”

Despite the criticism of Taser use, Ian Leavers from the Queensland Police Union says they remain a vital weapon in subduing violent offenders.

“They do save lives, and they will continue to do so. It's a positive thing, but to say that police don't like to use any force at all, it is a last resort and it has to be a case by case scenario,”

Amnesty International claims at least 500 people have died in the US after being Tasered.

But Taser International - the multinational company behind the weapon - says it saves lives and has never been a direct cause of anyone's death.

“Nothing's one hundred per cent safe, but at this stage we don't know of anything that Tasers can actually [do to] harm a person, but physically if someone's tasered and they're on the edge of a building they can fall off.

"So you've got to say that Tasers isn't one hundred per cent safe but then it all comes back to training,” said George Hateley, Australian distributor of Taser stun guns.

There are currently no nationally consistent police guidelines on how to safely use Tasers, but all states and territories agree that Tasers should only be used to protect human life or prevent potential injury to police officers or members of the public.

WATCH NITV REPORT: 14-year old Koori boy tasered

Police use of tasers is again under scrutiny after an incident involving a 14-year old Koori boy, NITV News reports. It came as the New South Wales coroner handed down her findings into the taser death of an international student.

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