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Police decision on tasers predictable, deplorable

Private Bag 68905, Newton, Auckland. www.gpja.pl.net

27 August 2008

Police decision on tasers predictable and deplorable

The police decision to deploy tasers, subject to MP approval, is a predictable but deplorable decision.

The decision represents another move along the path to policing by force rather than policing by consent.

The decision to consult with members of parliament is a sham. A majority of MPs will support the decision as the police cynically know that neither Labour nor National will dare seem to be soft on “law and order” in the lead-up to the election.

Instead the police want MP backing for a decision which is hugely unpopular across many sectors of the community. The police are looking for political cover rather genuine community input. From the outset they made the decision to trial the tasers BEFORE they consulted with anyone outside the police. Now they are continuing to push forward without reference to the public.

Government position shameful
The Minister of Police, Annette King continues to say the decision about taser deployment is an operational decision for the police. (She would say the same thing presumably if the police decided to arm themselves with machine guns). Her comments that tasers would be kept in locked cabinets and issued only with authority by senior police is laughable. Already an analysis of the police taser trial conducted by Campaign Against the Taser shows widespread abuse of the police guidelines. As with pepper spray which is now used willy-nilly, tasers will quickly become the first line of police response rather than the last.

Police Association dripping with contempt
The police association comments drip with contempt for anyone who challenges a police decision. All the more reason for this decision to be open for public input.

There is a case for the police Armed Offenders Squad to have access to tasers as an alternative to firearms but the police decision goes well beyond this.


There is no place for tasers in New Zealand policing for at least seven reasons:

(1) Tasers encourage a culture of violence in policing: The taser introduces another element of violence into the relationship between police and the general public that we don’t need. We have a long history of relatively unarmed police which has served this country much better than the culture of heavy violence which exists in policing in the home of the tasers – the US. Our police and our community are safer as a result.

(2) Safeguarding the police: As more violent methods of policing are introduced then it is very easy to see the responses from people in the community as becoming less respectful and more violent as well. Police in the US are at far greater result of injury and death than police in New Zealand and we should aim to keep it that way.

(3) Safeguarding the community: We all appreciate the police often have very difficult situations to handle and they deserve community support in facing these situations. However we also have some of the most vulnerable members of our community who also face very difficult situations and struggle to cope. We have people facing acute mental health crises and with often little backup to support them to cope in the community.

(4) Police inability to follow guidelines: Pepper-spraying was introduced into New Zealand some years back and is being used “willy-nilly” several times a day around the country. It seems clear that pepper spray is increasingly used as a first resort rather than as a later resort. Just having it readily available means the police will bypass other options much more quickly and the guidelines for its use become increasingly irrelevant. In the Stephen Wallace shooting for example while the police officer was acquitted of the charges laid against him, the police involved did not follow their own procedures about the use of firearms. Likewise in the case of the just completed taser trial. Even from the limited information available in media reports it is clear the police did not follow their own guidelines on a number of occasions.

(5) Tasers and guns are lethal: The overseas evidence is overwhelming. Tasers have become a first option in many policing situations in North America and the death toll is rising rapidly. More than 300 people have died after being tasered in the US and Canada in recent years. These people would be alive today had they not been tasered.

(6) Community control of police powers: Police are given very broad powers of arrest and restraint on freedom. It’s very important that the community retains democratic control and scrutiny of police activity. There are plenty of examples around the world of police forces that have become a law unto themselves and are outside effective democratic control. It’s our job to ensure this doesn’t happen in New Zealand.

(7) Police priorities: Public confidence in the police has taken a real hammering over recent years with police at the highest levels charged with rape, fraud, theft and violent offences. The police priority must surely be to rebuild community confidence and trust rather than see it eroded further.


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