• Concerns have been raised over the use of taser guns by police officers. (Getty Images)
Concerns have been raised about the use of taser guns after an incident in Brisbane, reports SBS Queensland correspondent Stefan Armbruster.
16 Oct 2008 - 2:57 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2013 - 11:52 AM

Concerns have been raised about the use of taser guns after an incident in Brisbane, captured on video, which civil libertarians say shows excessive use of force by police.

By SBS Queensland correspondent Stefan Armbruster.

Early one morning last December, as night clubs were spilling out, Brisbane City Council security cameras captured a brawl opposite city hall.

The incident happened during a 12-month trial deployment of tasers to senior front-line officers.

In security camera footage obtained by SBS, four police are seen restraining a large, young man face down on the ground. He had just hit a police officer. He is tasered three times in the back as they try to handcuff him.

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Now, it's being alleged that the use of the taser was in breach of guidelines.

And it's led to renewed calls by civil libertarians for a halt to the controversial roll-out of tasers, not just in Queensland but across the country.

President of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties Terry O'Gorman says the use of a taser in the incident in Brisbane was unnecessary.

"It was punitive, it was unjustified, it was excessive, it was violent and in breach of the guidelines," he told SBS.

Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Kathy Rynders says the officers involved in the trial received special training in the weapon's use.

"We cannot guarantee that our officers will not act inappropriately, whether it is the use of tasers, the excessive use of powers in terms of detaining somebody, what we can do is ensure that there are the appropriate situations and accountabilities in place to manage that an take appropriate action when it arises," Ms Rynders told SBS.

'Sign of things to come'

Mr O'Gorman says the incident is a taste of things to come and the $14 million program to equip almost 6,000 front-line Queensland police with the tasers should be halted.

"It's just extraordinary that we are seeing the paramilitary arming of the police in this country, Queensland and other states, without any parliamentary oversight at all," he told SBS

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says police reporting requirements and oversight by the Crime and Misconduct Commission are sufficient for now.

"If one officer does the wrong thing, in the same way as we wouldn't take capsicum spray off them simply because one did the wrong thing, if there was any evidence of long-term systemic problems you'd have a look at it, as you would with any crime fighting tool," the premier said.

National roll-out of tasers

Tasers are used by police in some capacity in every state and territory in Australia.

New South Wales this month became the latest to roll them out across the state.

Queensland Deputy Commissioner Kathy Rynders says reasons for their introduction include to reduce assaults against police and control people who are mentally ill or intoxicated.

"We actually believe it is going to prevent us from having to draw our firearms on some of the occasions we've had to do so," she told SBS.

'Torture device'

Tasers deliver 50,000 volts of low amperage electrical current for up to 5 seconds and have a range of up to 10 metres.

They are listed by the United Nations as a torture device and Amnesty International in the US says 150 people have died after being hit by a taser.

But Taser International's literature says the probability of a death directly being caused by a taser is one-in-13 million exposures.

The president of the Australian Medical Assoication in Queensland, Dr Chris Davis explains their effect.

"First of all there'd be the pain from the electrical discharge and secondly it really incapacitates or temporarily paralyses you, as well as a form of shock, so it's a bit like electrocution, and there might even be a partial seizure during the time," he says.

That can cause temporary loss of bladder and bowel control.

But tasers can also be applied directly to the body in what's called drive/stun mode and then it has only one purpose.

"The probe mode immobilies people but it also does causes pain and the drive/stun mode just causes pain," says Deputy Commission Rynders.

It is unclear if the incident in Brisbane breached the Queensland police department's guidelines for using tasers.

The guidelines have not been publicly released for what are described as "operational security" reasons, which has added to the civil libertarians' concerns.

SBS has been provided with draft guidelines which say tasers should not be used "punitively for the purposes of coersion".

A letter from the Queensland Premier's office says "the guidelines are specific and include, among other things, that the taser is not to be used as a compliance tool".

But a police media release about the incident says "a taser gun was deployed on the man and he eventually complied with police directions".

Deputy Commissioner Rynders says she has no concerns about the incident.

"I think that the deployment of a taser in those circumstances may have been appropriate, as I say, I'm not in possession of the full facts of the entire incident, but that would have been overviewed by our evaluation committee, as well as our ethical standards command," Ms Rynders says.

But civil libertarians like Terry O'Gorman compare it with the introduction of capsicum spray.

Capsicum spray was touted as what was to be used instead of a police officer having to pull his or her gun, capsicum spray is now used in ordinary everyday, mundane policing situations.

The man involved in last December's incident pleaded guilty to public nuisance and assaulting a police officer and was fined $300.

No complaint was lodged about the use of the taser.

The taser trial ended on July 1 and the state's anti-corruption agency, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, is still awaiting the official report.

Under current plans, from January the first, Queensland frontline police will join those in West Australia and New South Wales to be armed with tasers.