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Friday, May 22, 2009

$10m earmarked for police 'tools of torture'

May 23, 2009
By MARTIN KAY - The Dominion Post

The Maori Party says giving police Tasers will arm them with "tools of torture", even though its MPs must vote for the Budget to fund them.

Police Minister Judith Collins said yesterday that $10 million would be set aside in Thursday's Budget to provide all police districts with the 50,000-volt stun guns in the next three years.

The funding would pay for all aspects of the deployment, including the weapons, audio-video cameras attached to Tasers to film their use and training. It would bring the number of Tasers to 720. About 3500 officers would be trained to use them.

At present, just 44 Tasers are available in the four police districts, including Wellington, where they were trialled before last year's decision to issue them nationally. Increasing the availability of the guns was announced last week, but not the level of funding.

Police say the weapons are necessary to provide a non-lethal response to violent offenders, but critics say they have the potential to be misused, with Maori and the mentally-ill most at risk.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed concern this week about New Zealand police being issued with Tasers, saying they caused severe pain that was a "form of torture".

Maori Party police spokesman Hone Harawira said the party, which is in a confidence and supply agreement with National, supported the UN findings.

"The last time I checked the job description of this country's police force I didn't come across any duty to torture people. We realise there are dangerous people out there, but we also know there are innocent people out there, and therefore we don't want tools of torture in the hands of police or anyone else."

Despite concern about the national rollout of Tasers, the Maori Party will have to vote in favour as its deal with National means it must support Budgets.

It is not the first time the agreement has seen the party vote for measures it does not agree with. Before Christmas, it was forced to back National's first round of tax cuts, despite figures showing they would deliver less to low income workers over time than those planned by Labour.

A disproportionate number of low income workers are Maori.

Ms Collins said "rigorous rules" would be in place to govern the use of Tasers.

Police Association vice-president Stuart Mills said the weapons would "save lives and prevent serious injuries".

"Tasers give officers an effective means to protect themselves, and the public they serve, without being forced to resort to lethal force." [Where have we heard THAT before??]

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