TPAV advocates for tasers in the wake of another on duty police injury

By TPAV Secretary Wayne Gatt

Published in the Herald Sun on 7 August 2021

OC spray can be temporarily uncomfortable to an offender and may stop them in their tracks.

A gun can kill an offender and, as we’ve seen in the past week, can seriously injure a police officer.

That’s a giant escalation in tactical options and potential outcomes and a giant gulf in what’s available to police to deal with a threat safely.

It can be the difference between life and death and is akin to going from 0-100kmh in a car without the option of a second or third gear.

When our members are called upon to deal with highly agitated, potentially dangerous and often volatile people in our community, who pose a danger to others, we’re asking them to put themselves in that highly vulnerable position and choose between an option that may or may not subdue the threat, or the alternative, which will subdue it, but could also end a life and change another forever.

Every police officer and PSO that has ever worn our uniform, knows that the decision to wear it comes with great responsibility and risk. It is the reason we are so careful and diligent in preparing our members for the dangerous encounters we know they will confront, that they must confront, if we are to enjoy a safer community. 

Last weekend, two of our members put on that uniform and went to work as we went to sleep.  A few hours into their shift, they were called to support dedicated medical staff at a psychiatric hospital who needed them. They went without question.

What transpired led a Constable to suffer a gunshot wound to his leg and be rushed to hospital to endure multiple surgeries to save that limb. He remains there now, a week on. 

But, he shouldn’t be, because his injury was entirely preventable.

He and his partner confronted what our members are confronting countless times every single day, on every divisional van shift and in every suburb of Victoria; a growing level of violence, a seemingly insurmountable wave of drug fuelled aggression and high risk-high harm offending by people with little to lose. Despite this, he was underprepared. 

He was left wanting for the safety equipment he needed to resolve this situation and for that, he has paid a high price. 

Our police members do their best to deescalate and resolve situations without force, and for the most part, they are successful.  But when they are called to step in and protect us, or defend themselves, as this Constable was, they need to have all of the tools available to them to do that successfully and safely.

Having already sprayed the offender with capsicum foam, which proved ineffectual, this Constable was left with little choice but to go hands-on with someone that was not thinking or behaving in a stable way. His only other option was to use or threaten to use his firearm on an unarmed man in an impossible situation. 

Risk harm to yourself, get close, go hands-on or draw a gun you know you cannot use? Imagine having to ask yourself that question and vacillate between those two problematic outcomes in the heat of the moment, in an enclosed and charged environment.

He chose the only real option he had. And that hands-on scuffle led to his gun going off while in its holster, the safest place for it. The subsequent gunshot injury he suffered will take months, perhaps longer, to repair. 

If you think this dilemma is a new one for police, let me assure you it is not.

A few specialist and regional police have been armed with conducted energy devices (TASER) for years, because of the known risks, while almost all street police in other jurisdictions carry them uniformly for this very reason. 

Taser is a tool that bridges the divide between life and death situations. It’s a life saver, but it is one that this Government has failed to provide most police and PSOs in Victoria, despite knowing the risks that they confront daily and the clear gap in their capability.

Over recent years, we have had countless cases where police have had to pull the trigger, forced to shoot people because the Taser they needed was too far away. 

They have endured coronial inquiries and tried to explain to others why they had little other option. And, they too have been hurt; attacked, punched, headbutted, kicked and this week shot in the process.

In 2017, we told the Government why they needed to urgently commit to providing this equipment for all frontline police and PSOs.  They listened and committed to `consider’ their introduction. But as we wait, more and more of our members are injured and more people in the community are put at risk of serious injury or death because police can’t reach for the non-lethal option they don’t have.

Every time police are involved in a lethal shooting, often of a mentally ill person, we lament the tragic police use of force. But, if nothing changes in terms of the options provided to police, it is likely that more ill and violent people and more police will continue to get hurt during these encounters.  Some may die. It’s that simple.

In lockstep with the Police Association, Victoria Police itself has repeatedly made its case to government for this equipment to be issued. The Sunday Herald Sun has campaigned heavily too, for common sense and community safety to prevail over Government inaction.

What happened to this young Constable needs to be a wakeup call for this Government, which has ignored the urgency of this call for too long now. No person deserves to go to work fit and well and then be rushed to hospital needing critical care because their employer failed to provide them with a safe workplace.

But the Governments dragging the chain on the implementation of CED for police in Victoria is doing just that. 

The cost is small, between 20-30 million dollars to equip the entire Force. No one disputes the need or the solution these devices offer, but it appears the `will’ is missing.

Well, here is something that might help those in Government charged with meeting this imperative.  

Look at the photos of this Constable as he lies in a bed that will likely be his home for many months to come. 

Know that you could have prevented his injury, his pain, and protected him better.

Now do something. Do it today. Because you can guarantee that every day you wait, our members are finding themselves in similar situations to this Constable, with the same lack of tactical protection. 

And, finally, ask yourself this: what are they worth? The officers, not the Tasers.