Police using Tasers more often

By Heather McCracken

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Police have released detailed data on Taser use since 2009 showing officers are using the weapon more often, but also resolving more incidents without discharging the probes.

The data also showed serious injuries from Tasers had been rare, and were caused by people falling after having been Tasered.

Since March 2010, when the device was rolled out to all police districts, Tasers have been shown 2646 times, with 13 per cent of those cases involving a discharge.

On average since 2010, officers drew Tasers 59 times a month, and discharged it nine times.

In 2013, the average has risen to 92 times per month, with an average of 12 discharges.

However the data also shows rate of 'show' events escalating to a discharge has declined, from one in six in 2010 to one in seven in 2013.

Superintendent Barry Taylor said Tasers were now available to more officers, with 1000 devices, including those available in 900 front line vehicles, and 5000 officers trained to use them.

"In the context of the millions of face to face interactions police has with the public, the use of force is actually very rare, featuring in less than 1 per cent of those interactions."

Mr Taylor said Tasers also had the lowest injury rate of all tactical options open to police, and were effective in de-escalating violent situations, including those where firearms may have otherwise been used.

But he said it was difficult to tell whether Taser use had resulted in a reduction of firearms events.

"It's added to that suite and instead of jumping from pepper spray to firearms it's created a less lethal option in the middle."

The data showed half of events where a Taser was discharged involved verbal threats, while just under half involved violence towards police. In 21 per cent officers were assaulted with weapons.

Officers reported Tasers were effective in 80 per cent of show or discharge events.

Mr Taylor said when the Taser was ineffective it was caused by operator error, which included the officer missing the target, or environmental factors. Only in one reported case had the Taser failed.

Tasers are not the most common tactics when force is required - officers most often use physical force, or "empty hand tactics", handcuffs and pepper spray.

Tasers cause the least harm, with about 1 per cent of events resulting in injuries, excluding minor probe injuries.

Of the 31 Taser-related injuries since March 2010, half were moderate and did not require hospital treatment, while three people were severely injured and taken to hospital.

Mr Taylor said the serious injuries were due to people falling after being Tasered, rather than directly caused by the Taser.

From next year, Police will publicly release the data every six months.

Number of Taser events:

Date: Total Taser events: Taser discharged: Taser use per 10,000 apprehensions

July-Dec 2011: 323 53 (16 per cent) 29
Jan-June 2012: 363 50 (13 per cent) 38
July-Dec 2012: 562 64 (11 per cent) 62
Jan-June 2013: 552 72 (13 per cent) 66

- APNZ

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