25 / 1 / 2024

Police Use of Tasers and OC Spray

Tasers

What is a taser?

The term “Taser” refers to a brand of Conducted Electrical Weapon (‘CEW’) utilised by the New South Wales Police Force and police in other states and territories. This handheld device possesses the capability to temporarily incapacitate individuals and induce pain through the application of electrical impulses.

The Taser is specifically designed to incapacitate both human beings and animals while minimising the risk of fatalities and permanent injuries and is less lethal than a conventional firearm. This is achieved through the delivery of brief electrical impulses that overpower normal nerve signals within the nerve fibres. The NSW Police force currently uses the Taser X26E and X26P CEW models. All Tasers used by NSW Police, except those issued to Tactical Operations Unit and State Protection Support Unit, have audio and video capability called Taser Cam.

Police use the Taser in various ways – it can be drawn and used to “cover” a person, fired so that two probes discharge into an individual’s body, or utilised by direct contact to “drive stun” the person.

NSW Police Force – Tasers as a Tactical Option

Tasers have been utilised as a tactical option in the NSW Police Force since 2002, where they were restricted to specialised law enforcement personnel. In 2009, tasers became accessible to general duty and operational police officers throughout the entire state.

The NSW Police Force has developed the Use of Conducted Electrical Weapons Procedures, as well as the Tactical Options Model, which govern the use of Tasers by general duties police officers. Under these guidelines, a Taser may be discharged at the discretion of the police officer after an assessment of the situation and the environment for the following purposes:

  • To protect human life
  • To protect the officer or others where violent confrontation or violent resistance is occurring or imminent
  • To protect an officer(s) in danger of being overpowered or to protect themselves or another person from the risk of actual bodily harm
  • Protection from animals

OC Spray

What is OC Spray?

Oleoresin Capsicum Spray, commonly known as ‘OC Spray,’ is an oil-based resin derived from the extract of naturally occurring peppers within the capsicum family. The primary active ingredient in OC Spray is believed to be capsaicin, and it does not function as a gas or chemical agent. In comparison to other defence sprays, OC Spray tends to elicit more severe and immediate reactions in most individuals.

The specific effects of OC Spray can vary from person to person and typically involve intense irritation of the eyes, nose, and mouth. These effects manifest within two to three seconds after contact and persist for a duration ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the quantity of OC spray that comes into contact with the individual’s eyes, nose, and mouth.

The OC Spray utilised by the NSW Police Force is a water-based formula, which is non-flammable.

NSW Police Force – OC Spray a Tactical Option

OC Spray has been utilised by NSW Police since the early 1970’s and has been issued to trained general duties officers since 1998.  The Oleoresin Capsicum Defensive Spray Manual governs the use of OC Spray by NSW police officers in the execution of their duty. Similar to tasers, OC Spray may be used by a police officer for the following purposes:

  • Protection of human life
  • A less than lethal option for controlling people, where violent resistance or confrontation occurs (or is likely to occur)
  • Protection against animals

When can police use tasers and OC Spray?

Various factors come into play when a police officer evaluates the appropriateness of using a Taser and/or OC Spray. These factors include the age and physical condition of the individual, the presence of mental illness, drug or alcohol involvement, and the potential risks to the officer, the public, and the individual.

Police are authorised to use force only when it is deemed reasonable, necessary, proportionate and appropriate to the circumstances in the execution of their duty, as defined under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (LEPRA). Determining what is a “reasonable” amount of force can be difficult, but it should be limited to what is necessary for control. The choice to use force, including the use of Tasers and/or OC Spray, by a police officer is a personal decision, and each police officer will be responsible and held accountable for it.

A police officer must complete a ‘use of force’ entry on COPS and report any type of operational or tactical problem in any situation and contact Weapons & Tactics Policy & Review Unit direct as soon as possible. Additionally, police officers have a duty of care for any individual that is affected by OC Spray. Police officers must start a decontamination procedure as soon as possible after the individual has been sprayed.

Is it legal to carry or use a Taser and/or OC Spray in NSW?

Under the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 NSW, both Tasers and OC Spray are categorised as a prohibited weapon. Schedule 1 of the Act lists all items classified as prohibited weapons. This includes “any device designed or intended as a defence or anti-personnel spray and that is capable of discharging any irritant matter”.

Unauthorised possession or use of such a weapon is considered an offense, carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. Police officers are not required to obtain a permit for the possession of a prohibited weapon.

Liza Abdulla