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Mental Health Nurses Say No To Taser

Position Statement on Police proposal to introduce Taser stun guns into New Zealand

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Tasers are battery operated units resembling hand guns that fire two barbed electrodes on 21 foot long copper wires at 180ft/sec. The barbs embed themselves in the victim’s skin and deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity in rapid pulses over a period of five seconds. This causes uncontrollable muscle contraction and overwhelming pain. Repeated charges of electricity can be administered. In addition to pain from the electrical charge, people subject to Taser shocks are unable to stand and risk sustaining fall injuries. Adapted from Bleetman, Steyn & Lee, 2004

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Te Ao Maramatanga (The New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses) Inc strongly opposes the introduction of Taser stun guns into New Zealand, as proposed by the Police. The most urgent concern for the College is that the current Police proposal specifically identifies “individuals in various states of mental health crisis” as a target for the use of Tasers. The College notes that this represents a change in emphasis from the statement made in the initial press release of February 8 which did not mention people in mental health crisis.

The College also questions the decision making process leading to this proposal, the consultation processes with groups likely to be affected, and the basis in evidence for the claim that the Taser is a necessary option for the Police.

Tasers were developed in the United States, where human rights groups report that their use has become routine part of law enforcement. In the United States and Canada, people with mental illness are amongst those subjected to Tasers. The College is deeply concerned at the inevitability that in New Zealand Tasers will become part of the Police response to mental health emergencies.

The College calls on:

  • the Commissioner for Police to urgently suspend this decision, and undertake a full review of the human rights, legal, and health implications of any decision to introduce Tasers.
  • The Minister of Health to call for urgent consultation with the Police to address the implications of this decision for people experiencing mental health crises
  • Parliament to debate the legality and necessity for this measure.
  • Reference: Bleetman, A., Steyn, R. & Lee, C. (2004). Introduction of the Taser into British policing. Implications for UK emergency departments: an overview of electronic weaponry. Emergency Medicine Journal 21, 136-140.

    Te Ao Maramatanga New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses Inc Partnership, Voice, Excellence in Mental Health Nursing

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