An independent NSW MP is pushing for an “urgent” parliamentary inquiry into how the state’s police and emergency services are trained to respond to situations involving cognitively impaired people after 95-year-old woman Clare Nowland was tasered in a Cooma aged care facility.
The NSW Police Commissioner has defended how police communicated what happened at the facility, which they initially described as an “interaction” with no further details.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward moved a notice of motion in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon (23 May) for a select committee to be established to examine training provided to police and first responders into how they manage people with cognitive disabilities or decline, such as dementia.
“I want to make it clear this isn’t a witch hunt into the NSW Police’s handling of last week’s incident – they have their own investigation underway,” he said.
“This proposal is not about adding to the specific inquiries already taking place in relation to the tragic events concerning Clare Nowland. It’s about ensuring what happened to Clare Nowland doesn’t happen again.
“This inquiry should review if police and our frontline emergency services across the state have access to adequate training to do their job and keep society’s most vulnerable safe.”
The motion will be moved during the Assembly sitting tomorrow (24 May).
However, it appears the Labor government won’t be backing the move.
Mr Ward posted to his Facebook page he was “very sorry” that he had heard he wouldn’t get the government’s support.
Region has reached out to Premier Chris Minns’ office for comment.
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb was grilled by 2GB host Ben Fordham on Monday (22 May) over how police communicated what happened to Mrs Nowland.
The original media release on 17 May stated an elderly woman had “sustained injuries” during an “interaction with police”.
Mr Fordham asked why the taser wasn’t mentioned, given other media statements about incidents involving police – such as a shooting or pursuit – usually include those details.
“It was important [her] family was informed of the situation in a factual manner before we went public on it,” Commissioner Webb responded.
“Mrs Nowland has a large family, and we didn’t want that family to hear on the radio or on TV what had happened to their mum, and so we had to be a bit sensitive to that.”
Commissioner Webb defended the fact she hasn’t yet watched the bodycam footage of the incident, stating she would have to decide on the officer’s employment once the full investigation had been completed.
“It may be the case in the future where I have to make a determination based on a brief of evidence without being tainted by having seen part of the brief without context,” she said.
“In the end, I might [have to watch it], but I need to have it in the context of all the other statements and evidence.
“I’m a member of the community. I’m the daughter of someone with dementia in aged care, and I think [what happened to Mrs Nowland] is hugely concerning, but I need to be objective, and I need to take all the facts into consideration, and I will do that.”
Commissioner Webb said she was still waiting for transcripts of interviews and an expert review into the use of tasers and training procedures; however, she said officers were trained to try to de-escalate situations involving vulnerable people.
“We’re not hiding anything … I want answers as do the family, and that will come in time,” she said.
Opposition police spokesman Paul Toole has called for the government to release the investigation once it has been completed.
NSW Police issued a statement on Tuesday (23 May) that the 33-year-old senior constable allegedly involved in the incident has been suspended from duty with pay.
It’s understood Mrs Nowland is receiving end-of-life care as she fractured her skull and suffered suspected bleeding on the brain after being tasered by a police officer at the Yallambee Lodge facility in Cooma.
Her family issued a statement to The Monaro Post yesterday expressing their “profound love and affection” for their mum, grandmother and great-grandmother.
“Well respected, much loved and a giving member of her local community, Clare is the loving and gentle-natured matriarch of the Nowland family,” they said.
“This is a most worrying and distressing time for our family and we are united in our support for Clare and for each other. We stand together.
“We thank everyone here in Cooma, the wider region and, in fact, the whole country and around the world for the outpouring of support for her and her ongoing battle with dementia – which touches so many.”