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Police accused of misuse of Tasers

The Press | Saturday, 15 December 2007
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Police breached procedures for Tasers 40 per cent of the time they were used in the first six months of their trial, a group opposed to the 50,000 volt stun guns claims.

Campaign Against the Taser, headed by prominent Auckland lawyer Marie Dyhrberg, said police regularly presented or fired the weapons at people below the authorised threat threshold between September 2006 and March.

A study of police statistics shows 27 of the 69 people were not assaultive, the lowest category allowed. Eleven were classed as compliant, 11 passive-resistant (not obeying instructions), and five active resistant (pushing officers away or running off). Two were not classified.

In most of the 27 cases, tasers were only presented, but in three, they were fired, delivering a shock which briefly paralyses targets.

Police say Tasers are a vital alternative to deadly force, but opponents say they can be fatal and could be used instead of non-violent methods. Last month, the United Nations Committee Against Torture said they were a form of torture.

Dyhrberg said the fact only three of the 27 people under the threshold for Tasers were shot did not mean it was not misused in the other cases.

"It's an abuse of force even for the police to threaten somebody when they do not have the power to do so. It's a very short step then of an unlawful situation becoming accepted routine."

Another report from the New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses said Tasers were used disproportionately on the mentally ill. Half of people with a mental illness presented with the stun guns were shot.

The reports are designed to pressure Police Commissioner Howard Broad as he considers a report on the Taser trial, held in Auckland and Wellington from September 2006 to September this year. He will decide whether to introduce the guns next month.

A spokeswoman said police rejected claims Tasers were misused 40 per cent of the time, and would not comment on "lobbying commentary".


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