The New Zealand Police this morning announced that all frontline response staff will routinely carry Tasers.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush says the decision is based on research and evidence highlighting the success of the Taser in de-escalating violent situations, and its extremely low rate of injury compared with other tactical options.
The SMC collected the following expert commentary.
Dr Anthony O’Brien, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing,The University of Auckland, comments:
“This increased use needs careful monitoring as it is a significant extension of current policy. The perception of the Taser as safe may lead to increased use.
“In particular, the use of Tasers with vulnerable groups such as people with mental illness and addiction need to be monitored as in many instances individuals with mental illness are the subject of police attention due to aspects of mental illness, not criminal behaviour.”
Dr O’Brien was a co-author of a recent review article examining the police use of Tasers in mental health emergencies.
Prof James Ogloff, Director, Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology, comments:
“While not without controversy, when implemented properly having the option of using Tasers has been found to reduce use of force and de-escalate episodes of aggression. International research shows that, on balance, the introduction of Tasers can provide overall benefit so long as police officers are well trained and supervised. Also, monitoring of the use of Tasers needs to be done to ensure that the general use of force by police does not widen. That is, police should only use Tasers when necessary and when other less serious options have failed. This would include emergency situations.
“The use of Tasers cause pain, muscle aches and in many cases anxiety to the target being tasered. It is rare for any long-term physical effects to be produced. There have been few cases of people dying after being tasered but those individuals have typically had complex physical problems.
“All in all, Tasers can provide an intermediate option to police that can help ensure their safety and reduce the risk of greater harm to the target and the broader public.
“Once implemented, the police need to monitor the use of Tasers, just as they would all other uses of force.”
Prof Ogloff led a five year study into policing people with mental illness, including the use of force across both mentally ill and not mentally ill people.