Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Maori, Islanders high in stun-gun statistics

Police spokesman Jon Neilson said that the overriding factor in the use of Tasers was the nature of the incident regardless of the ethnicity of those involved. File photo / Christine Cornege
Police spokesman Jon Neilson said that the overriding factor in the use of Tasers was the nature of the incident regardless of the ethnicity of those involved. File photo / Christine Cornege

Fears police would use Tasers disproportionately on Maori and Pacific Islanders have been realised, say the Mana Party and the Greens as police numbers show almost 60 per cent of people tasered in the past year were of those ethnicities.

But police and their minister, Judith Collins, say the figures merely reflect the "sad fact" that Maori are over-represented in crime statistics.

In response to written questions from Green MP Keith Locke, Ms Collins yesterday released police data on the use of the 50,000-volt stun guns which, after an initial trial period from September 2006 to August 2007, were issued to police nationwide from March last year.

The most recent figures - for the 11 months ending August 9 this year - show police discharged the weapons at people 88 times. Thirty-five or almost 40 per cent of those tasered were Maori and 18 per cent were Pacific Islanders.

The introduction of Tasers was bitterly opposed by the Maori Party and the Greens with the Maori Party's Hone Harawira and the Greens' Mr Locke both raising concerns their use would reflect police "racism".

Mr Locke yesterday said the latest statistics raised a number of issues about the weapons.

"Certainly they're being fired disproportionately at Maori. The reasons for that are something we should look into."

Mr Locke was also concerned that police were too quick to use Tasers on people with mental health issues - 58 during the 11-month period.

Mana Party spokeswoman Annette Sykes said that despite Mr Harawira's warning "there has been this disproportionate outcome for Maori and Polynesian individuals which is a sad indictment on us".

Both Ms Sykes and Mr Locke pointed to the fact that Tasers had been drawn and pointed at people 499 times during the past year and fired 88 times. That, they said, suggested police were using them as "instruments of control" rather than as a last resort to be used to protect the lives of police and the public.

But police spokesman Jon Neilson said the overriding factor in the use of Tasers was the nature of the incident regardless of the ethnicity of those involved.

He acknowledged the implication that Maori and Pacific Island people were more likely to be involved in incidents that required police to use Tasers.

Ms Collins said it was "a sad fact that Maori, in particular, are over-represented in New Zealand's crime statistics".

Use of Tasers in volatile situations where other methods had failed was preferable to resorting to Glock pistols "which would have far more serious consequences".

ETHNICITIES

During the 11 months to August 9, police tasered 88 people including:

* Maori: 35

* Pacific Islanders: 16

* Europeans: 35

* Asians: 1

- NZ Herald

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