Australian police Tasers 'used on mentally ill'

A taser X26 stun gun, Dec 2006
Image caption Taser guns administer an electric shock to targets and are described as a weapon of choice for police

Australian police are using Taser guns against people with mental illness in a disproportionately high number of cases, a five-year study says.

Specialist forces in Victoria used Tasers in 83 incidents - 85% of cases involved a person with a mental illness and 28% of those targeted were unarmed.

The Federation of Community Legal Centres, which commissioned the study, said it showed "systemic problems".

Victoria Police said the suggestion was "misplaced" and did not reflect facts.

In a statement to the BBC, the Victoria Police said it closely monitored the use of Tasers by its specialist forces.

"In looking at our data regarding Taser use it is clear that members have been responding to critical incidents involving people who are acting in an incredibly violent and aggressive way.

"Clear policies and procedures are in place regarding Taser use and all incidents are reviewed by senior management to ensure their use is justified and entirely appropriate."

The use of Tasers by police in Australia provoked public anger earlier this month when a video was released of a man being receiving 13 Taser shocks from police in Western Australia.

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Media captionThe unarmed man was tasered 13 times by police after he refused a strip search

The unarmed Aboriginal man was believed to be mentally ill.

The clip of the 2008 incident was released as part of a report on the use of Taser guns by Western Australian police.

Tasers were introduced to provide police officers with an alternative to handguns, but the report found that there is a growing tendency to use them for compliance and for those resisting arrest.

Weapon of choice

The new study in Victoria found that although the Tasers were rarely used, vulnerable people were involved in a disproportionately high number of cases.

It said 32% of incidents included multiple shocks, and that in a third of cases Tasers were used against those who "failed to comply with instructions".

"While specialist police officers are not using tasers very often, the data about how the weapons are used suggests there are systemic problems," said Hugh De Kretser, head of the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Victoria Police said it gave ongoing training to its officer in conflict resolution, and communicating with vulnerable people, including those with mental illess or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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