Police, Tasers, Public Protest and the Public Interest

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When tasers were first introduced into New Zealand policing it was widely predicted it would be mostly used against Maori, Pasifika and those with mental health issues. And so it has. Just as worrying is the well-established trend that the more arms the police carry, the more likely they are to use them as the first line of defence.

It might seem inconsequential to armchair activists but police carrying tasers while on duty at public protests is an important issue relating to freedom of speech and the right to public protest. One has only to search on-line to find plenty of dreadful situations where police use of tasers in demonstrations has provoked outbreaks of violence and led to serious injury to members of the public and something to police themselves.

With this in mind the police standard operating procedures have always said that police rostered for duty must not carry tasers.

However, over the years there have been many occasions where the police have carried tasers while on duty at demonstrations. In most cases a complaint has been made and various excuses presented by police for a breach of their instructions.

Last November in Christchurch for example police rostered for duty at a lively demonstration against the outgoing Israeli Ambassador were armed with tasers.

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Two Palestine solidarity supporters wrote complaints and were informed police instructions re tasers had changed.

One was emailed by a senior sergeant who said:

“…the current Police policy regarding the carriage of taser, allows a member of Police to carry Taser during a demonstration/protest”

The second was emailed by a police superintendent who said:

“On this occasion, our Sergeant leading the team made the assessment that TASER would be carried as a risk mitigation based on the information to hand. I support that decision. I should point out that TASER was carried, however not deployed. 

Our Police Policy relating to TASER also covers this off as a tactical option for our teams to consider”

I did an OIA request to find out when and why the policy had changed and who had been consulted about the change only to be told, by an inspector this time, that the policy has NOT changed and that the Police Instruction Public Order Policing states in part:

“The TASER must not be carried by Constables rostered for duty at demonstrations. Remind constables that Police behaviour can oftendetermine the course of a demonstration. Over-reaction by constables can provoke disorder 

It’s a sensible instruction but appears to be lost on senior police in Christchurch. We are taking this up with them.

I think it’s important the public push back on issues like this. Without public pressure the other way, police and other state forces will always tend to extend their power against people they see as “a noisy minority”, or “troublemakers” or “stirrers” or “scumbags” or worse.

So when you are next on a demonstration check the police on duty and speak up if you see tasers on a police belt. Doing so means you are acting in the public interest.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Agree 100%. We don’t want our rights in NZ to protest safely gradually removed in NZ. We see terrible things happening in places like Hong Kong where protesters are arrested, jailed and even killed for protesting. NZ is going closer to that model.

  2. I have been fobbed of on this issue a number of times. I recall demonstrations both in Auckland and Christchurch where police were wearing tasers on their belts. One of the issues surely is that whilst you can address the police in charge at the demonstration, you certainly can’t get them to remove their tasers, you are ignored!

  3. This is fair comment, but I am tired of protestors taking their arguments & frustrations out on the Police. Their role must always be to uphold the law. We need to direct our arguments in a civilised manner to those who can solve them and not make the Police the meat in the sandwich.

  4. Tasers save lives – the lives of both the police and the criminal element they’re being used against. The alternative to a Taser is a baton or a Glock. Your choice.

    I would expect a police risk assessment of a demonstration outside of an embassy (any embassy) would indicate that Tasers are warranted but more so the Israeli embassy because elements within the demonstration could be Hamas or Hezbollah supporters – both terrorist organizations.

    • Having recently seen a small number of Police quietly and effectively dissipating a large rabble of rowdy abusive intoxicated students without need for Glocks, battens or Tasers, I wonder what you are on. A protest by anti-racist human rights advocates of an older demographic would be a walk in the park by comparison.

    • The protest was in fact outside a Christchurch city council building in Christchurch. Don’t jump to conclusions. The facts are that it is illegal for any cop to carry a taser at a demonstration, they know the law why can’t they stick to it.

    • Yes and we know that the ANC was a terrorist organisation and Mandela a terrorist…. Are they now terrorists NO NO NO

      The real terrorists are the Israeli forces.

      • He was a terrorist. He and other were convicted in 1961 of making and planting bombs, several of which targeted and killed black Africans.

        • History proves that the terrorism was maintained in the form of apartheid in South Africa. It was ultimately overturned by world opinion built on the backs of imprisoned freedom fighters. Of course, one of the protesters ultimately became the President.

          • Indeed it was. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

            BTW – Don’t you just love the way NZ is reinventing Apartheid?

            😉

    • The Israeli embassy is not in Christchurch Andrew ,,,, how long have you been a pommy immigrant here in NZ for ??? ,,, or maybe you’re a half cocked cockney and have reading issues ?.

      If we were to be more accurate then Israel, the usa and the UK,/ Pot, Kettle & Black ,,,,they represent terrorist & terrorist supporting organisations ,,,,,, https://youtu.be/ZgIEnVKVLZY

      Tazers can be abussed for ‘compliance’ ,,, should not be present at protests ,,, and HAVE been involved in needless deaths of NZers ,,, but a bit like your cockeyed Georege Floyd take ,, you would claim they died of ‘natural causes’ ,,,, “As death toll keeps rising, U.S. communities start rethinking Taser use” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-taser-deaths-insight-idUSKCN1PT0YT

  5. A far better plan is not to have a police presence. They’ve got far better things to do and I am assuming would rather be anywhere else than a protest. If it turns to shit they can always attend later.

  6. Michal read my comment – I said John had made a fair point, but went on to say fighting the Police will ultimately achieve nothing.

    • Peter, this is not in my view ‘fighting’ the police, it is however holding the police to account for the laws that govern us all. They are not the law themselves!

  7. I can remember the Police promising the long batons would not be used after the Springbok Tour was over.
    They lied then and still do now.

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