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Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Zealand taser trial cops broke rules 40% of time

December 15, 2007
MARTIN KAY - The Dominion Post

Police breached procedures for Tasers on 40 per cent of occasions when they were used in the first six months of their trial, a group opposed to use of the stun-guns claims.

Campaign Against the Taser, headed by prominent Auckland barrister Marie Dyhrberg, said police regularly presented or fired the weapons at people below the authorised threat threshold.

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 three of the 27 cases Tasers were fired.

Police say Tasers, which deliver a 50,000-volt shock that briefly paralyses the target, are a vital alternative to deadly force.

But opponents say they can kill - and could be used when a non-violent method was appropriate. Last month a United Nations committee said they were a form of torture.

Ms Dyhrberg said the fact that only three of the 27 people were shot did not mean the other cases were not misused. "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 to an unlawful situation becoming accepted routine."

The Catt study also claims police twice presented Tasers at petrol stations - against procedures because of the potential to spark an explosion. In another case, an officer accidentally fired a Taser into the floor while using its laser sight as a torch during a warehouse search. Another report from the New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses said Tasers were used disproportionately on the mentally ill. Half those with a mental illness presented with a Taser 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 for a year from September 2006. He will decide whether to introduce them next month.

A spokeswoman said police did not accept Tasers were misused 40 per cent of the time. Police had consulted the mental health sector, and its views would be considered. The Catt report also highlights publicised cases of accidents, including one in which a 16-year-old boy was hit as his father was fired at. Catt wants the trial independently reviewed and any decision on introduction made by the Government. Police Minister Annette King has said it is an operational decision for police.

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