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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Police to get tasers despite overseas concerns

December 10, 2008
The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand police are to receive tasers from today though their Canadian colleagues have just announced they are retesting some of their stun guns after a critical report.

The tasers are set to be distributed to the police's Armed Offenders Squad members in Auckland and Wellington.

But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has come under increasing pressure over its taser policy after a report found the weapons could fire excessively strong charges. The 24 weapons to be tested were manufactured before 2006.

An official Canadian report in September found that the Mounties had not done enough research on the dangers of tasers before approving the weapons for use.

Amnesty International has said the weapon is linked to more than 290 deaths in North America since 2001, and not enough is known about potential health risks, such as heart failure.

Police here have said the weapon is needed as a non-lethal option.

New Zealand police project manager Superintendent John Rivers said some general duties police officers will receive training in the use of the taser in February next year.

He said the tasers will be fitted with an audio and video device that will begin recording when the weapon is used.

"Stringent instructions have been developed based on the findings of the trial. These provide very clear operating guidelines and, in the event of any inappropriate use of the taser, set down procedures for action to be taken," Mr Rivers said.

He said the taser will not be routinely carried by police officers. Officers' will need to obtain permission from their supervisor or a communications centre supervisor before taking the weapon to an incident.

"Before the application of a taser the officer involved must
have an honest belief that the subject (offender), by age, size, apparent physical ability, threats made, or a combination of these, is capable of carrying out the threat posed and that the use of the taser is warranted.

"We are very conscious of the need to reassure people that this new less-lethal technology is designed to provide greater safety not only for police staff but also members of the community when dealing with violent incidents," said Mr Rivers.

A year-long trial of tasers in New Zealand ended in August last year.

Police fired the taser 20 times during the trial and also drew the stun gun over 120 times.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has reported that Canadian police have used the taser 4,000 times since its introduction in 2001. More than 20 people have died in Canada after being shot by the taser.

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