Taser decision unprincipled and dangerous
29 August 2008
The Campaign Against the Taser (CATT) has expressed deep concern about the Police Commissioner's decision to introduce Tasers, describing it as unprincipled and dangerous. "Our analysis of the preliminary information about the trial initially released by the police indicated that more than 40% of incidents between just September 2006 and March 2007 were in breach of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) drawn up to regulate Taser use during the trial period", spokesperson Marie Dyhrberg said today.
"The Police Commissioner's decision has been made despite repeated calls for delay until the public had had the opportunity to view and comment on all relevant information about the trial, not just the summaries released by Police, which the Chief Ombudsman called "sanitised". Despite the Chief Ombudsman's recommendation in May that wrongly withheld information be released to CATT, the police have still not provided information covering the full year of the trial."
In the CATT report, Stun guns in Aotearoa New Zealand? The shocking trial, serious concerns were raised about inappropriate and dangerous use of Tasers during the trial, such as use of the weapons in service stations, on individuals in mental health crisis, on people whose behaviour was not assaultive, and the disproportionate number of Maori and Pacific people targeted with Tasers. In addition, it highlighted the increasing controversy over the use of Tasers overseas as the death toll among those struck by police Tasers continues to rise, and the United Nations Committee Against Torture's description of the use of TaserX26 weapons as constituting a form of torture which could in certain cases cause death.
"There has been no public discussion of these concerns, and without the complete set of information about the New Zealand trial, it has not even been possible for the public to properly assess the trial. The trial has been run by Police, assessed by Police, and now the decision has been made by Police, with no transparency or openness in the process", Dyhrberg said. "Transparency is especially important in a trial, which is supposed to provide an opportunity for reflection and considered debate - this trial has had neither."
"The Police Commissioner said that the debate in the House on Wednesday did not raise any new issues. That is no wonder - how can the matter be properly debated when most of the relevant information is kept secret? A decision such as this, which will change the face of policing in New Zealand, should be subject to a rigorous democratic process and public scrutiny. The decision is both unprincipled and dangerous, and the lack of process and transparency around it is unacceptable in a modern democracy."
It is inevitable that at some point there will be serious injuries or deaths related to Taser use, and that the introduction of the Taser will needlessly increase the violence of policing in New Zealand. CATT remains concerned about the lack of thorough and independent investigations into Taser use and its effects. The Campaign is also concerned that Tasers will be used as a tool of routine force, not of last resort, and that vulnerable groups (such as those with mental health issues) will again be inappropriately subjected to electric shocks.
Campaign Against the Taser