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.
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.