RLC in the Media: NSW Police database unlocked: the where, when and why officers used force

NSW Police drew their tasers almost 3000 times in the course of duty over the past five years, according to internal police records, with officers logging a mental-health issue in more than 1000 of these cases.

Nigel Gladstone reports for The Sydney Morning Herald

Details of the 57, 500 times police recorded the use of force in the community between 2014 and 2018 have been released under freedom of informational laws, detailing where, when and the reasons that officers deemed the use of force necessary.

The state’s 16,800 police are required to record every time they draw a Taser or use force against a person in the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) database. There are more than 100 descriptions of events they can use, including “Public Mischief” and “Armed/Disguised With Intent”.

NSW Police use an escalating series of options, including force, to respond to a suspect’s behaviour.

Mental health issues were the second most common category noted in use-of-force incidents by officers.

“NSW is becoming increasingly reliant on police responses [to mental-health issues] rather than support or treatment in a health setting,” a NSW Police Association spokesman said. “NSW spends less per capita on community-based mental health care than any other state or territory.”

Use of excessive force is one of the most common complaints raised by clients at Redfern Legal Centre’s police accountability advice clinic, head of the division, Samantha Lee, said.

“Unfortunately, the cases we see suggest that some police are relying on the use of excessive force as a routine procedure,” Ms Lee said.

“A common story is: police get called to an incident of threatened self-harm and they are asked to detain and convey the person to a mental health facility,” Ms Lee said. “The person at the scene is in a high state of distress and shocked when police turn up on their doorstep. This is a situation that often escalates quickly from verbal instruction to either physical restraint or sometimes the use of a Taser or firearm.”

Read the full article here (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 2019)