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Call for Police to release “sanitised” Taser info

June 6 2008

Campaign Against the Taser calls for Police to release “sanitised” Taser information, and to delay Taser deployment decision

Campaign Against the Taser spokesperson Marie Dyhrberg has called for Police to urgently make public large amounts of factual material that were excluded last year from Taser incident reports. The information has been requested by CATT to assess the trial, including the extent to which Police followed their own guidelines during the Taser trial last year.

CATT lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman when Police withheld the majority of information from Taser incident reports, claiming this was to protect the identity of officers and members of the public involved in the incidents. However, CATT had not sought personal identifying details of the officers or members of the public.

Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem has now upheld the complaint, saying that the deletion of information about the trial is unjustified in the light of the strong public interest in the Taser issue. The Ombudsman has recommended that that Police release the wrongly withheld information.

CATT spokesperson Marie Dyhrberg called on the Commissioner of Police to delay his decision on the Taser until the public has had the opportunity to view and comment on all relevant information about the trial, not just the summaries made available so far, which the Ombudsman has called “sanitised”:

I have read the summaries and compared them with the tactical options report accounts. In my view, many of the summaries are extremely brief, and have the effect of “sanitising” the original reports. – Chief Ombudsman

The Chief Ombudsman has emphasised the need for greater accountability in the trial. She wrote:

As the Police have recognised, the use of Tasers is an issue that is of major importance to all New Zealanders.

Given that the decision on whether to equip Police with Tasers is an executive one, with no provision for Parliamentary oversight, Cabinet approval, or Ministerial sign off, I consider that there is a particularly strong public interest in the accountability and transparency of the Commissioner’s decision-making on this issue. In my view the best way to ensure this, is for the process to be as open and transparent as possible.

The Police have argued that the proactive release of the Taser summaries on the Police website has already met this public interest consideration. I disagree.

The trial has been run by the Police, the summaries have been written by Police, and the refusal to release any of the “raw data” from the pilot to outside parties has meant that there does not appear to have been any external review of how the Police have conducted the pilot. The production of these reports therefore seems inadequate to address the principle of accountability. – Chief Ombudsman

Marie Dyhrberg said today that the Ombudsman’s decision highlights that the Taser trial has lacked transparency and openness. “Transparency is especially important in a trial, in order to provide an opportunity for reflection and considered debate. This cannot happen if factual material is kept secret and sanitised. The public needs to be given the opportunity to properly assess the trial.” Dyhrberg pointed out that even with the minimal information the police released last year, the Campaign's report 'Stun guns in Aotearoa New Zealand? The shocking trial' had highlighted serious breaches of the police guidelines for Taser use.

Furthermore, said Dyhrberg, the Ombudsman’s decision indicates the need for the Minister of Police to be involved in decisions around the Taser. “If the Police cannot be relied upon to be open and transparent about the trial they undertook, the Minister must step in, in the public interest, and exercise responsibility to ensure that the Police are held accountable in relation to such an important public issue,” she said.


Letter from Ombudsman to Campaign Against the Taser (PDF)

For further information:
'Stun guns in Aotearoa New Zealand? The shocking trial', A report on the New Zealand Police Taser trial, 1 September 2006 - 1 September 2007, Campaign Against the Taser, published December 2007 - http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/tasertrial.pdf

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