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Taser decision made without adequate information

Taser decision 'in principle' made without adequate information, says Amnesty

Amnesty International is disappointed that the "in principle" decision to introduce Tasers into New Zealand has occurred before a rigorous, independent and impartial inquiry which takes into account deaths caused following Taser use.

Despite police and manufacturer assurances that Tasers are a non-lethal weapon, more than 300 deaths following Taser use in North America has been recorded since their 2001 introduction. Seventy-three deaths occurred last year alone. (1)

"While Amnesty acknowledges the challenging task that the New Zealand Police play in the protection of New Zealanders, the number of uncertainties surrounding Taser use could jeopardise the ability to prevent risk of death or serious injury," says Margaret Taylor, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand spokesperson.

Within the Minister of Police Annette King's statement, she seems to suggest that Tasers could be used to "subdue a person under the influence of drugs, mentally disordered or in a frenzied psychological state". (2) These are the very conditions most consistently seen in deaths following Taser use.

Amnesty International believes Tasers should only be used where the situation presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to officers or others.

"The New Zealand Police force has always prided itself on policing by consent and not by force. The introduction of Tasers to dedicated frontline police officers is a move away from this culture," says Taylor.

Which is why Amnesty earlier called for any decision on Tasers to be made at a government level in consultation with the Police Commissioner, rather than by the Police Commissioner alone.

Ms King's statement also advises Tasers are only to be available to thoroughly trained frontline staff. However, Amnesty notes with concern that within the New Zealand Police Association's June 2008 report, Towards A Safer New Zealand, it reported a "disturbing trend" for more sworn police officers to be exempt from mandatory training, and highlights "a lack of agreement as to what constitutes frontline". (3)

"What assurances can the Minister and the Police Commissioner give that these concerns will be addressed before any Taser introduction," says Taylor.

Any deployment of Tasers should only go ahead on the basis that the New Zealand Police commit to:
• Taser use only when the situation presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to officers or others,
• Officers carrying Tasers are trained to firearms standards on an ongoing basis,
• A highly restricted roll-out and only to specially trained officers,
• Demonstrating how the use of Tasers will be consistent with its obligations under international human rights guidelines,
• Implementing policies and procedures to prevent misuse of electro-shock weapons.

Amnesty International is not opposed to Tasers per se. Rather, we are calling for the use of Tasers or stun guns to be suspended, or for a moratorium on their introduction until a rigorous independent and impartial inquiry into their use and effects including Taser-related deaths are carried out.

Stun guns are potentially lethal electrical weapons. The pistol shaped weapon delivers 50,000 volts of electricity into a person's body. The result is excruciatingly painful, causing a person to fall to the ground and, at times, lose control of their bodily functions.

(1) USA: Amnesty International's Concerns about Taser use: Statement to the US Justice Department inquiry into deaths in custody (AMR 51/151/2007)
(2) Annette King's ministerial statement on the Taser, New Zealand Herald, 27 August 2008.
(3) New Zealand Police Association, Towards A Safer New Zealand – Police and Law & Order Policies for the Future June (NZPA, Wellington, 2008), 25.


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