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King: Ministerial statement - Taser Decision

I wish to make a Ministerial statement pursuant to Standing Order 348.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad has informed me that he has made an in-principle decision on the deployment of the Taser as an addition to the New Zealand Police graduated response model.

For some years now Police have been concerned that a gap has existed in our tactical options between the use of batons, dogs, OC spray and lethal firearms. While in most close quarter situations OC spray is highly effective in subduing a violent offender, its effective range is limited to 10 feet, and its effectiveness lessens when used to subdue a person under the influence of drugs, mentally disordered or in a "frenzied" psychological state.

Assaults on police officers by offenders with weapons have increased from 57 in 1998/99 to 88 in 2006/07. A report in 2002 endorsed the concept of a graduated use of force model and developing a database to monitor incidents and trends in behaviour. A subsequent project recommended Police consider introducing Tasers as an addition to the graduated response model.

Tasers are used by more than 930 Police agencies world-wide. I am told that the recovery time of an individual affected by use of a Taser is substantially less than that for OC spray, and that Tasers are highly effective in controlling aggressive and violent individuals under the influence of mind altering substances or in a mental health crisis.

From September 2006 Police undertook a full year-long operational trial of Tasers in the three Auckland districts and Wellington. During the trial 128 incident reports were submitted, of which 19 actually involved discharging the Taser. Weapons were present in 66 percent of incidents. The most common were cutting and stabbing instruments.

Weapons were involved in 16 of 19 incidents where Tasers were discharged. Tasers were effective in resolving 86 percent of incidents --- 71 percent using just the presentation mode without additional tactics such as laser painting, arcing or discharging.

Injuries to individuals and officers were minor despite the serious circumstances of incidents. Individuals sustained expected minor injuries with no extra medical follow-up required. Officers reported a small number of minor injuries that did not require medical attention.

Police have sought further advice since completing the evaluation. Additional information has come from jurisdictions like Britain and Canada. Canada's experience is interesting. Tasers were introduced without the ability for effective monitoring, a lack of clarity in terms of justifications for use, and a lack of capability to capture operational data. This contrasts with the measured approach here.

Police say that the Taser's built-in recording mechanisms provide enhanced auditing opportunities, and the recent availability of cameras with the device provides even greater reassurance around deployment if complaints are made.

The Commissioner now informs me that, taking into account all the information gathered, analysed and presented as part of the trial evaluation, supplemented by personal discussions with colleagues in several overseas jurisdictions, he has made a decision in-principle to deploy the Taser as part of NZ Police's tactical options framework.

He is proposing that the Tasers currently in Police ownership are returned to the four districts for reintroduction to frontline policing. The devices will be equipped with the Taser Cam video camera and will only be available to selected frontline staff who are thoroughly trained --- a mixture of section staff and specialist tactical squad staff such as AOS members.

Tasers will not be carried on the hip of patrolling staff. They will be in secure cabinets in Police vehicles and deployed only on approval by a supervisor of substantive NCO rank or above.

In the medium term he seeks to purchase sufficient units to equip all 12 districts to the same standard as the four trial districts.

Commissioner Broad says that he is conscious of the convention around use of force being a decision for the Commissioner of Police but informed by public sentiment --- in other words, a convention of policing by consent.

That is why, before making a final decision, he would like MPs to express their views. He intends to make his decision shortly after. He also hopes MPs agree that his approach is the most appropriate one for responding to the issues of risk to the public and to police; and for continuing the tradition of having a routinely unarmed police service, a value closely held by New Zealanders.

Minister's concluding remarks;

I wish to thank all parties who have contributed this afternoon.

The Government does not believe in the routine arming of police staff with firearms, and nor does it believe the New Zealand public does either.

The Government is concerned for the safety of police officers – the increase in assaults, particularly with weapons, is a worrying trend.

With the increased use of drugs and alcohol for example, the police are often faced with dangerous situations and need a response appropriate to that situation.

Handcuffs, batons and OC Spray have their limitations, leaving a gap between those tactical options and the use of lethal force.

Police are trained to shoot to incapacitate -accordingly the use of firearms is potentially the ultimate lethal option – what is needed is a less-than-lethal option that protects the Police, the public and the individuals concerned.

The Government is therefore supportive of Commissioner Broad's in-principle decision on Tasers and particularly the way in which their deployment is proposed, with a high level of transparency and accountability.


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