OnPoint by Keith Ng

Set Tasers to pun

Thanks for all the comments, folks - this is certainly an emotive issue. And fair enough - a device that causes pain should cause some emotional response. But some of the rhetoric is starting to snowball now, and surely, this can only cheapen the debate.

I was particularly miffed by what Hone Harawira said (according to a commenter on Frogblog who was present) at the Taser protest: “I’ve been arrested about 30 or so times, if the Police had Tasers back then I wouldn’t have survived to be here speaking to you, or to have made it into Parliament…”

Let's get some geek on.

What is the likelihood of being killed with a Taser?

Chance of death = Total number Taser deaths / Total number times of Taser used

Total number of times Taser used (in the US) = 200,000+
Number of deaths where Taser was a factor, according to coroners (in the US): 23+

(Why do the Greens/Maori Party/Amnesty keep using the ~180 figure? The 23+ is the official opinion of coroners, who's job it is to determine the cause of death and who are professionally trained to do so. The ~180 is simple correlation. This isn't an unprofessional opinion, it isn't even an opinion: In no way does the ~180 number substantiate any sort of causal link between the Taser and the deaths.)

Chance of death = ~0.012%

I thought 50,000 volts was pretty deadly?

The Taser is fundamentally different from, say, the electric chair, because it uses electrical energy to disrupt the nervous system, rather than to destroy tissue (i.e. Cook it). Because all it needs to do is to confuse muscles with random electrical signals to override the electrical signals from the brain, it only needs a very small current. The high voltage is necessary to send that current through the body, but it doesn't carry a lot of energy.

To use an analogy with water, voltage is the pressure of the water, rather than the volume of water. A high-voltage system like the Taser would be like a supersoaker - it's high pressure, but there's not really a heck of a lot of water coming at you.

For practical purposes, the voltage affects how likely the current will zap you, but not how much damage it will cause.

How often will they be used?

Here are the rules of engagement that the police are under, according to the Herald.

Police may use Tasers only to:
* Defend themselves, or others, if they fear physical injury to themselves, or others, and they cannot reasonably protect themselves, or others, less forcefully.
* Arrest an offender if they believe on reasonable grounds he or she poses a threat of physical injury and the arrest cannot be effected less forcefully.
* Resolve an incident where a person is acting in a manner likely to physically injure themselves and the incident cannot be resolved less forcefully.
* Prevent the escape of an offender if they believe on reasonable grounds that he or she poses a threat of physical injury to any person, and the escape cannot be prevented less forcefully.
* Deter attacking animals.

Tasers come with their own internal logging system, recording exactly when they are used.

Police maintain that pepper spray will be their main means of personal protection.


Still, it's all about trust, it seems, according to PA readers.


If we needed Tasers in this country then I'd expect the Police to be able to point to an overwhelming weight of specific incidents in the past where the use of the Taser would have resulted in a demonstrably better and safer outcome (for the police, the public and the crim).

And don't start with the Waitara shooting - that doesn't count as the Police continue to use utterly faulty logic to justify the use of force there.

I don't trust the Police - I accept we need them, and a good friend is on the road to becoming a copper - but too many of my personal interactions with them (and I'm no crook, but I've been both a 'victim of crime' and a student protester) have left me with the sicky feeling that many cops are jumped up wannabe fascists who shouldn't be allowed near weapons that can inflict the level of pain the Taser can.

I've seen too many student protests, too many arrogant bobbies, too many Clint Rickards....

End of the day - I don't trust them, and I shouldn't have to trust the with Tasers."

Nick from Youth Law:

Sure, the Taser may be an effective tool, but this isn't America. Why do *our* Police need it? I just haven't heard a convincing explanation of the need for this weapon in NZ.

I have little faith in the "strict policies and guidelines for use" approach. I see the trusty phrase "reasonable belief" scattered through Police Taser literature. In other words, its open slather. And *how* will Police officers be accountable for misuse of the Taser? Through the Police Complaints Authority? Sounds like a good one for a Tui billboard.

If introduced, the Taser will eventually be misused by NZ Police. This is inevitable, just as it was inevitable that they would misuse pepper spray, batons, hand-to-hand combat techniques, and of course, the power to prosecute.

Our Police are doing a great job against violent criminals by using the significant powers they already enjoy. The trouble is they are also doing a great job of exercising those powers against innocent citizens. If they struggle to exercise their powers responsibly now, is adding the Taser (just for the hell of it, apparently) going to make me feel any safer?"

Amanda K:

Tasers are popular in the US police force because they incapacitate without killing and they probably prevent lots of gun deaths, right? We probably all agree on that one. But NZ police don't routinely carry guns, so why are we upgrading to a terrible weapon that inflicts such extreme pain? My fear is that it's too easy. NZ cops seem to have been getting more punchy and shouty as they watch more US cop shows, and it's probably likely that many will be keen to try out a Taser if they get the chance. It would be a very sad and horrid thing if Tasers became as routine here as they are in other countries. I rather enjoy living in a country where we treat even prisoners like human beings (or strive to, anyway)."

[Google-ad-irony-watch: Why are PA's Google-ad selling Christian t-shirts and asking whether Christ is coming back? I blame Tze-Ming for mentioning National's 'bedrock values'. It's bloody creepy how Google-adsense can pick up dog-whistle rhetoric so efficiently...]