This is a very sad day for policing in New Zealand.
Our country has prided itself on a much lower level of violence in policing than other jurisdictions like the United States.
Let’s be blunt about it. Some New Zealanders will die unnecessarily as a result of this decision – as have over 300 people in the United States – the home of the taser. So far this month we’ve seen five Americans die after being tasered.
Those who will die from this 50,000 volt weapon will be Kiwis with heart conditions, and those whose circulatory system is weak through drug use or mental disorder.
Deaths are most likely to occur among the mentally disordered people, because in our year-long trial the taser has frequently been used against such people.
The use of the taser will not help police relations with Maori and Pacific Island communities because the trial statistics show that people from these communities have been the main targets. The introduction of the taser will be bad for race relations.
We know that the taser is very likely to be overused, despite the controls that the Minister has mentioned, as it has been overused elsewhere in the world.
In our taser trial police sometimes went beyond their mandate – which was to deploy the weapon only when there was an imminent danger of injury.
In practice, tasers were sometimes pulled out and pointed at people simply when police were having difficultly restraining and putting the handcuffs on an offender.
This has happened frequently overseas. You may remember, last year, the horrific television footage of Robert Dziekanski – a man who man was confused rather than violent – being tasered to death at Vancouver airport.
You might also remember the TV shots of the young American student tasered after interjecting at one of Senator John Kerry’s meetings.
This sort of thing has happened here, as recorded in official police reports. Here is one example. On 20 March 2007 a mentally disturbed women in Waitakere City, who was not armed with a weapon, took refuge in a bathroom. The two police officers present broke in and tasered her two times.
Such ‘mission creep’ in the use of tasers is unlikely to ever be fully controlled, because individual officers quickly find out that the 50,000 volt weapon is so frightening to people that they will generally comply when it is pointed at them, or fired at them. So it can easily become an everyday policing tool, as it has in the United States.
We have already seen a ‘mission creep’ in the use of the pepper spray – including in the confined space of a Whakatane Police cell. The Greens have yet to be convinced that the police administration has got on top of pepper spray misuse by some police officers. We don’t think this is the time to equip such officers with a much more dangerous weapon, the 50,000 volt taser stun gun.
We can predict the outcry when the taser is first fired at a protester. There is already concern at the misuse of pepper spray on protesters. Last month Judge McGuire awarded compensation to an anti-GE protester who was pepper-sprayed in Rotorua.
Introducing a greater level of violence in policing actually weakens its effectiveness. Traditionally, New Zealand police have been more effective than their American counterparts because they do not carry guns around and because they are less violent in their approach to crime situations.
Ordinary members of the public will be more fearful of police patrols armed with tasers and this will get in the way of better cooperation between the police and communities – cooperation which is critical in both crime prevention and the apprehension of offenders.
There is also the serious question that taser use is, legally, torture. This was clearly stated last November by the United Nations Committee Against Torture when it declared that “the use of the taser X26 weapons provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture” – and was therefore contrary to the UN Convention on Torture. New Zealand is a signatory to this convention and must obey it. The fact that America and some other countries use the taser does not make legal what is clearly illegal under international law – and that is the use of tasers.
For all these reasons, the Greens are very opposed to these painful and sometimes lethal stun guns being introduced into the police armoury.