The Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission recently resumed a misconduct investigation into the treatment of police detainee Kevin Spratt, who was shot with a taser over 40 times in the space of a week whilst in police custody in Perth in 2008.
In one incident where Spratt was being moved between police facilities, a senior officer is alleged to have entered Spratt’s cell, ordered him to lie down, and when he did not comply, tasered him twice before he was dragged out, pinned to the ground, and tasered up to nine more times.
Spratt suffered serious injuries as a result of this episode.
Personally, I would suggest that tasers have had a negative effect upon police culture and practice and their use should be limited only to extreme situations.
The taser is an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to stimulate the human nervous system and disturb the voluntary control of muscles. They are meant to be used by Western Australian police as ‘non-lethal’ devices to incapacitate aggressive and potentially dangerous subjects from a relatively safe distance, and are used by both general duties police officers and the elite Tactical Response Group.
However, asides from the well-publicised safety concerns with tasers, the ease and rapidity with which a subject can be subdued using a taser has meant that law-enforcement personnel are increasingly using them as a substitute to reasoning and gaining trust and cooperation, rather than as a complement to be used only in situations of extreme non-compliance.
This is a phenomenon that seems to be occurring internationally, as reports from the USA, Canada, and the UK have found that tasers are increasingly being used pre-emptively in arrest situations, in minor situations that would not typically warrant violent force, and against passive resistors.
This represents a challenge to the notion of presumed innocence at the core of the key democratic principle of the rule of law. I believe that it is our responsibility as young people to advocate social progress that involves the government increasingly giving its citizens responsibility to make their own decisions and control their own lives within the context of an environment of positive government support.
The common presence of weapons such as tasers – especially when carried by general duty police officers – places an additional element of separation and mistrust between government law-enforcement agencies and the population, creating an intimidating environment of presumed guilt in which it is no wonder that vulnerable and socially-ostracised citizens harbour negative sentiment towards the police and do not cooperate with them.
I would argue that a culture of taser use and police brutality is in fact a causative factor in many of the problems that increased police security measures are trying to combat.
Young people like us must voice our desire to live in a society of cooperation, where law-enforcement agencies positively prioritise the solicitation of trust and the promotion of social harmony, rather than negatively seek first to subdue, punish, and demonise.
This article was first posted on YourCommonwealth.org here