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Turia: Deployment of the Taser Guns

Ministerial Statement on Deployment of the Taser Guns

Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Wednesday 27 August 2008

There were four elements to our issue. We are opposed to the use of tasers, and many of our issues have already been outlined.

1. We believe that particular groups are more likely to be shot by a taser gun, and shot when unwarranted or inappropriate. Those groups include youth, men, Maori, Pasifika peoples, people in mental health crisis and political protestors. The international evidence has highlighted the probability of ethnic targeting. And we know that in Houston police data show that in almost 1,000 taser deployments, 63% of those tasered were black, yet Houston's population is only 25% black.

The taser literature details countless rallies, campaigns, lobbies that have emerged alleging racial profiling -that the dark skin colour of victims is the cause of a lethal judgment against them. Stephen Johnson, a 22 year-old black college student tasered in 2005, summed up his position and he says that the police, "are using tasers as a way to keep black people subordinate".

And we would be very concerned if that happened in Aotearoa, given that 56% of taser subjects being Maori or Pasifika.

2. There has been no robust case made for introducing a lethal weapon in front-line policing, nor has there been any comprehensive research on the long-term health effects of taser use.

When developing the business case for taser guns, the New Zealand police looked only to the recommendations of the Project Lincoln Report - which was limited by its focus, in investigating only lethal weapon options.

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We note that today's announcement comes hot on the heels of a low-key media release from the police just three months ago, when the police decided to use the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle as their preferred option in dealing with armed situations.

And for those not familiar with this rifle, it is because up until three months ago, it was deployed only by the Armed Offenders Squad.

3. There has been no public consultation on the taser gun trial to canvas the associated risks, or how the public might be protected from misuse of the taser.

During the mediation of our complaint with the Human Rights Commission, the Police confirmed that public consultation on the future of taser guns will not occur.

4. The Maori Party is firmly of the view that police use of lethal weapons is a Ministerial policy matter.

Again, during the course of our mediation from our complaint to the Human Rights Commission; the Police stated the Minister could have made a different decision.

We come back, then, to the call from the Campaign Against the Taser lobby group, the Human Rights Foundation; the Peace Foundation, lawyer Marie Dyhrberg, the Combined Trade Union and the Howard League amongst others.

That group called for: * The Police to halt the taser proposals; * to concentrate on traditional methods; and * A rigorous, independent and impartial inquiry be carried out, as recommended by Amnesty International.

We are concerned that all too soon, this weapon will not be seen as an alternative, but as an addition.

We are concerned that resorting to the taser will erode the already fragile trust between the citizenship and the law; and that the old-fashioned police skills of wit, reason, and negotiation will be lost in a whole new category of police-public interaction.

We are concerned that tasers pose a disproportionate risk to many of the most vulnerable - the pregnant, the young, those with mental health or drug problems or those with heart conditions.

We are concerned that 'mistakes' will be made; and that there will be always the possibility of misuse; the potential for abuse, for the taser to become a tool of torture.

And we know only too well, that having trialed these new powers, it is extremely unlikely that the authorities will ever surrender them.

ENDS

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