Broad confirms Taser introduction

By Patrick Gower

Police Commissioner Howard Broad has decided to introduce Taser stun guns as a tactical weapon option.

Mr Broad sought the views of MPs yesterday on Tasers, but said today nothing new had emerged in the debate so he saw no need delay their introduction.

He said 32 Tasers would be reintroduced to three Auckland districts and Wellington.

"Before that can happen the tasers will need to be retrofitted with cameras and appropriate refresher training undertaken.

"It will, therefore, be several months before the tasers will make an appearance as a tactical weapon option."

Mr Broad said there was likely to be a Budget bid next year to equip the remaining eight policing districts with Tasers.

Mr Broad's decision to go to MPs for approval had led to questions about his independence from political interference.

He was described as "being made to look like a turkey" by National and as "politicised" by the Police Association after the decision - his alone to make - was put to Parliament yesterday.

Today, Mr Broad told Radio New Zealand he had been seeking input rather than approval on the decision.

"As I understand the conventions that exist, it was quite proper for me to seek input.

"I was not asking for the minister's approval, I wasn't asking for a serious piece of advice, I was asking for input and her perspective, which is quite different from what some have cast the relationship to be."

Mr Broad made no initial public comment after finally opting for the Taser after over eight months of evaluating the earlier year-long trial.

Its adoption was instead announced in a ministerial statement by Police Minister Annette King, who said it was the "first time in living history" a commissioner had sought Parliament's views before finalising such a decision.

It was widely interpreted as a move by the Labour-led Government to delay question time and divert attention from the Winston Peters donations controversy.

Mr Broad was criticised both for letting himself be used in a political stunt and for having to rely on Parliament to make a decision.

However he told Radio New Zealand the intention was to pass the decision to Parliament earlier, but it had not been possible.

"It was a question about timing in the House. I knew that yesterday was the day some weeks ago.

"There was an intention to do it earlier, but it conflicted - as I understand it - with some other events happening around Parliament at the time."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said that while frontline officers should have been celebrating, the decision instead "highlights the politicisation of the highest levels of police".

Putting the decision to Parliament was a further erosion of the convention of the commissioner's operational independence of Parliament.

"What if Parliament had said no? What would he have done then?"

Mr O'Connor said it set a dangerous precedent if Parliament changed its mind on the Taser in the future, or if other controversial decisions would now be expected to be put to MPs.

"This decision could have been made by the commissioner at any time ... instead it has been held back in a cynical and calculated attempt to divert police and public attention."

National's Gerry Brownlee said Labour was "sacrificing the poor old Police Commissioner and making him look like a complete turkey by being unable to make up his own mind".

He said ministerial statements were usually used for big announcements such as 9/11 or NewZealand soldiers killed in East Timor.

"Today, we are informed the Police Commissioner has made up his own mind - but he's not sure."

New Zealand First's Ron Mark said he was "baffled" by the commissioner's eight months of hesitancy over what was a "no-brainer" and "the sudden need for political approval for what is an operational decision".

Ms King's statement came after she had repeatedly deflected questions about the Taser by saying it was a decision for the commissioner alone.

Mr Broad's "in-principle" decision was supported by all major parties except the Greens and the Maori Party in the subsequent debate. He is expected to make the final decision shortly.

Ms King told Parliament Mr Broad wanted MPs' views because he was conscious of the convention that use of force was a decision for the commissioner but informed by public sentiment - "in other words, a convention of policing by consent".

VIDEO EYE ON EVERY SHOT

Every shot from a Taser will have an independent witness - a video clip from the stun-gun itself.

The Tasers given to frontline officers will also have the new Taser Cam, a camera that publicity says makes records to "increase accountability - not just for officers but for the people they arrest".

When the Taser's safety switch is moved into the "armed" position, recording starts of up to an hour of audio and video footage, even at night.

The camera slots into the Taser's handle as part of the rechargeable battery.

The camera, which costs an extra $900 per Taser, was not available during the police trial when Tasers were fired 19 times out of a total involvement in 128 incidents.

It comes with software that downloads the files and keeps them in a searchable library.

The Tasers owned by police will be the first put back on the streets in the Auckland, Wellington and Wairarapa districts where they were trialled, with new Tasers to be phased in around the country. The Taser will not be carried on the hip of officers, but kept secure in police vehicles.

- With NZPA

- NZ Herald

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