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Police report is no defense for tasers

Campaign Against the Taser

3 August 2006

Media Release:

Police report is no defense for tasers

Campaign Against The Taser.Com finds no justification whatever for tasers from the police “Lincoln” report released today.

(The taser stun gun fires two barbed metal darts at the victim and delivers a 50,000volt electric shock. It is excruciatingly painful. Similar devices are used around the world as instruments of torture)

By describing a wide range of extremely violent options (such as 12 gauge shock rounds, encapsulated rounds, armour plated vehicles and wholesale delivery of pepper spray) to deal with problems it seems the police would like to soften the public up to accept tasers as the best option.

“However it is specifically misleading for the police to refer to tasers as a “less-lethal” option for policing in New Zealand because they will not be used as an alternative to firearms but as an alternative to pepper spray and batons” says Campaign Against the spokesperson, Auckland barrister Marie Dyhrberg,

“Therefore tasers are in fact a MORE lethal option than other options available at present.”

This is underlined by the fact more than 180 people have died following being tasered in the United States over the past 6 years.

“We understand that the police do a difficult job in many situations which are dangerous or potentially dangerous”, says Campaign Against the spokesperson, Auckland barrister Marie Dyhrberg,

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“They deserve the community’s support to do their job safely and effectively but the answer is not tasers. These will increase danger to police as it changes the relationship between the police and the community.”

Attached are a series of questions and answers prepared by Campaign Against The Taser.Com which confront the difficult questions such as “Would Stephen Wallace be alive today if the police had tasers?”

Campaign Against The Taser.Com is planning a march in Auckland on 19 August to call for the government to reverse its decision to approve the introduction of tasers.

For more details of the campaign go to


Tasers – Questions and Answers

What is a taser?
A taser is shaped like a hand gun but instead of bullets it delivers a 50,000volt electric shock to the victim. Taser is an acronym for the Thomas A Swift Electric Rifle (TASER)

How does it work?

It works from a small battery connected to a coil of wire. A second coil of wire is wound round the first coil and when the current is turned on and off in the first coil a voltage of 50,000 volts is generated in the second coil. This second coil is connected at each end to fine wires with barbs at the ends – like barbs on a fishing hook. When the trigger is pulled these two barbs are fired out at 60m/s. As soon as both barbs lodge in the skin or clothing of a person, a 50,000 volt electric shock is delivered. The shock can be delivered a number of times while the barbs are in place. The barbs may need surgical removal.

What effect does it have on a person?
The electric shock overrides the victim’s nervous system and they lose control of their muscles and fall over. It is excruciatingly painful.

Why do the police want it?
The police say it is “intended for use in ‘less lethal’ situations, to incapacitate or subdue violent offenders, or to ‘induce compliance’ without substantial risk to the offender, Police or the public”. The police have identified groups such as those in a mental health crisis or lightly armed offenders.

Who will use it?
In New Zealand the police intend to issue the taser to “front-line staff”. It is to be trialled in Auckland (North Shore, Waitakere, Counties Manukau) and Wellington. In the UK where the taser has been introduced it is restricted to special operations groups – such as the UK equivalent of our armed offenders squad.

Aren’t they safer than guns?
Yes, but our police are not routinely armed with guns. The intention is to issue them to frontline staff for use alongside pepper spray and batons so they are a more violent and more lethal option than at present.

Won’t the police be safer if they have a taser?
No. As more violent methods of routine policing are introduced then this invites more violence from the community. For example police in the US are at far greater result of injury and death than police in New Zealand despite being routinely armed with firearms.

Aren’t police all around the world using tasers?
No. Tasers are in use in the US and Canada, some states of Australia and are in limited use in the United Kingdom.

But tasers are safe aren’t they?
No. Tasers have been trialled, tested and found to be fatal. The overseas evidence is overwhelming. More than 180 people have died after being tasered in the US and Canada since September 1999. A full list of these deaths and the circumstances is on our website at The taser corporation and police say in most cases these people died due to a pre-existing medical conditions or because of involvement with drugs. However it’s also clear these people would be alive today had they not been tasered.

Can’t you can get a bigger electric shock from a trampoline or a car door?
High voltages are not necessarily dangerous. A person may get a several thousand volt electric shock when they touch a car door or the frame of a trampoline as they get off but these “tingles” in the fingers have such a tiny electric current for a short time they are usually harmless. Not so a taser which will typically deliver much higher electric currents to the body over a sustained period of time.

Won’t tasers help safeguard the community?
We all appreciate the police often have very difficult and sometimes violent 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. For example people facing acute mental health crises and with often little backup to support them to cope in the community. A few years ago the police would use skill and tact as their first response to defuse all but the most serious situations. Nowadays police are often using pepper spray as their first response and the same will be the case with tasers.

Would Stephen Wallace be alive today if the police had had access to a taser?
Stephen Wallace would be alive today if the police had followed their own procedures for the issuing of firearms. They carried guns that night in defiance of their own policies. Other options were available to deal effectively with Stephen Wallace aside from guns or tasers. There were three police officers at the scene with batons and pepper spray, and a police canine unit was on its way.

The police have been up-front about the taser haven’t they?
No. Internal police documents are frank about how it is intended the taser will be used while the public comments are quite specifically misleading. They appear designed to disarm public concern rather than provide accurate, honest information. A comparison of these public statements and actual policies is on our website at

Can’t we trust the police to follow their guidelines in using tasers?
Pepper-spraying was introduced into New Zealand some years back and is now increasingly used as a first resort for police rather than as a later resort. Just having a taser readily available means the police will bypass other options much more quickly and the guidelines for its use will become increasingly irrelevant.

Aren’t they going to trial it first?
The police say they will trial the taser for 6 months from September 2006 and then make a decision about their deployment. However it is clear that the decision to deploy has already been made and the trial will be used to merely refine the guidelines for its use.

But parliament has approved it haven’t they?
No. The police (and the Minister of Police) say this is an “operational decision” for the police. We have had no public discussion or public input aside from an inaccurate and misleading police media release. The only debate has been through CATT challenging the police decision.

Yes but surely we have democratic control of our police through parliament don’t we?
Yes we do at present although it is clear that the “operational decision” to introduce tasers is a sign of that control eroding. Police are given very broad powers of arrest and restraint on the freedom of citizens. 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.

Tasers don’t give police any more powers though do they?
Yes. 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.

Can the taser be used as torture?
Yes. Amnesty International reports that taser devices are frequently used overseas to torture and interrogate people such as political prisoners. There is plenty of evidence of tasers being used by police in the US particularly for torture to “gain compliance”. The New Zealand police originally indicated they intended to use the taser to “induce compliance”.

But our community has confidence in our police force don’t we?
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.


© Scoop Media

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