A decision to give all police officers Tasers was made without the Police Minister – who was told by force bosses a short time before a public announcement.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced late last month that all frontline police officers would soon be armed with Tasers while on duty.
A briefing released to the Herald under the Official Information Act shows that Police Minister Michael Woodhouse was told of the change after it had been decided by police leaders.
He was assured the roll-out was not a precursor to a general arming of police with firearms – a charge that was made by opponents when the Taser expansion was announced days later.
“This decision to enable routine carriage of Tasers for level 1 frontline responders is not a step towards general arming of Police,” the July 29 briefing from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement stated.
“Research has soundly demonstrated that the Taser is a highly effective and safe method for de-escalating violent situations compared to other tactical options at Police disposal and this is the driving factor behind this policy.”
A spokesman for Mr Woodhouse said he was verbally briefed of the change prior to the July 29 document, in line with the “no surprises” policy.
“While he is supportive of the decision, it is an operational matter for the Police Commissioner [as to] where and when his officers carry Tasers.”
Frontline officers could previously only access Tasers from a lockbox in police vehicles when required. The new initiative means Tasers can be carried by appropriately trained, level-one responders, at all times.
The briefing paper notes that the change had been run-past an external reference group made up of community leaders in Auckland.
“The group do have concerns, but Police believe these concerns can be effectively mitigated.”
Tasers have been used in New Zealand since 2010. Police research showed for every nine times a Taser was presented, it was only charged once, the briefing stated, while other tactical options had much higher injury rates.
When the policy was announced on July 31, Mr Woodhouse said he fully supported it and described it as a “welcome move”.
However, Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson said at the time that the change should require a law change, that would allow the public to have a say.
“There have been a number of cases where the use of a taser has gone badly wrong,” said Mr Wilson, who was also speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Foundation.
Examples of that included the case of Mark Smilie, who the Independent Police Conduct Authority found was tasered in an excessive manner when he on the ground while being arrested.
Police had to pay Mr Smilie $20,000 compensation.In another case police used a malfunctioning taser six times on a man in 11 seconds. Mr Wilson said tasers were supposed to be used as a last resort, not to ensure compliance.
What’s a Taser?
A Taser is a handheld stun device, often shaped like a gun, that uses electric current to cause pain or to disrupt muscle control, made by American company TASER International. The weapons sell on the company’s website for between US$129.99 (NZ$198) and US$1399.99.
How do they work?
Tasers fire two small metal dart-like conductors which are connected to the gun by a 6 metre copper wire. When the darts hit a person, they deliver a 50,000 volt electric shock that disrupts the control of muscles, causing incapacitation and involuntary muscle contractions.