The recent death of 95-year-old Clare Nowland, allegedly as a result of being tasered by police, has reignited concerns surrounding police accountability.
As family and friends in the town of Cooma prepare for Nowland’s funeral on Tuesday, June 13, justice advocates have expressed concern that future mishandlings may go unrecorded, further pushing away transparency and accountability in law enforcement actions.
Scrutiny over police accountability has heightened in the past weeks after it was revealed that the new generation of tasers being rolled out across the state lack an inbuilt camera, raising questions about the collection of video evidence.
The heart of the issue lies in the disparity between the traditional X26P tasers used by police, which are equipped with a built-in “high-definition camera” and the newer T7 models, which don’t have this feature.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the most recent NSW police manual reveals that officers are instructed to activate the cameras manually when using the new taser models. However, a troubling sentence states that the camera only needs to be turned on when “circumstances permit”.
In the case of Nowland, a great-grandmother with dementia, senior constable Kristian White allegedly used a taser to disarm her. Authorities have stated that she was found wandering around her aged care residence while holding a steak knife, leading to the decision to deploy the taser.
It is understood that both White and his partner had their body cameras turned on and recorded the events in its totality, but police officials have chosen not to release the footage.
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb had previously stated she was “not sure” why there is a need for the video to be released.
“Body-worn video is subject to legislative requirements around the surveillance devices act and other things, so it is not routine and we don’t intend to release it, unless there is a process at the end of this that would allow it to be released,” she said.
Webb has admittedly not seen the video herself but has heard the audio, adding that she does not “see it necessary” to watch the recording.
President of People with Disability Australia, Nicole Lee shamed the police’s handling of the situation, calling the use of the taser “completely inappropriate and not warranted.”
“It really does highlight the fact that police are coming into scenarios like this and clearly they don’t have enough training behind them or support behind them to de-escalate a situation for someone who is in a mental health crisis or is experiencing confuse or distress, including due to dementia,” she said.
Following the incident, White has been suspended from duty with pay. He is set to appear in court on July 5 to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
If convicted, White could potentially face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.