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Shooting Reinforces Case Against Tasers & Guns

Police shooting reinforces the case against tasers and guns

The police killing of a man armed with a hammer in Christchurch provides powerful evidence against further arming of the police either with guns or tasers.

There are enough undisputed facts in the public arena to know this situation should not have ended in a man’s death.

There has been a clear trend over recent years for the police to resort to force much too quickly. The more arms the police have the less likely they are to use tact, diplomacy and commonsense in defusing difficult situations.

The Police Association says that had the police officers in Christchurch been armed with tasers they could have avoided the use of lethal force. This is not true. The taser was never to be deployed as an alternative to guns. It was proposed as an alternative to pepperspray or batons.

This is cynical, opportunistic use of a man’s death to try and justify arming the police to an even greater extent than present.

We can readily predict the outcome of the police investigation. They will deem the man acted in self-defence no matter what eye-witnesses say because they will say that in the police officer’s mind he “thought” his life was at risk and that is enough for self-defence. The Police Complaints Authority likewise will clear the officer.

The police will once again investigate their own with only a nominal oversight by the under-resourced and ineffective Police Complaints Authority.

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In the meantime the case against arming the police with tasers or guns is strengthened by events in Christchurch. Here are seven good reasons:

(1) They both 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. A few years back a neighbour (of GPJA spokesperson John Minto) with mental health problems had an argument with his flatmate and as a result went round the house ranting and raving and smashing windows at 3am. When the police arrived they handled the situation really well. They were respectful and professional. They calmed him down and called in mental health support. That wouldn’t happen today. He would be peppersprayed, tasered or shot.

(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 167 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 the net. 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 when you read the circumstances of these deaths 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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