Pepperspray followed by handcuffs or restraints were the most commonly used options by Northland police when dealing with difficult situations but police dogs and Tasers were also useful tools, a report has revealed.

However, a senior Northland officer says communication is still one of the most important tools officers had at their disposal.

The New Zealand police annual Tactical Options report for 2016 released last week showed Northland police used tactical options 366 times during 2016. It was close to the lowest rate in the country, with Tasman recording just 290 incidents and 370 such occurrences in the Southern police district.

The highest was in Counties/Manukau where officers used some sort of tactical option 1040 times, followed by Wellington (824) and Bay of Plenty (790).


Northland statistics showed most of the tactical options used were lower levels of force such as handcuffs or restraints, 91, pepperspray, 95, empty hand tactics, 74, and baton 3. Firearms were used 13 times, with Tasers used 56 times and dogs 33.

Police "use of force" remained relatively rare across New Zealand with fewer than 1 per cent of face-to-face interactions with the public resulting in the use of a tactical option.

Northland police operations manager Inspector Marty Ruth said experienced officers based in the region knew the people in their communities and they could engage with them by talking before incidents escalated.

"It's good for frontline officers to have these tools but it's a last resort. They are doing a wonderful job using verbal communication and then going up the scale using the various tools wisely."

He said the vast majority of incidents, including most violent confrontations, were resolved by talking to the people concerned.

The use of police dogs as a tactical option in Northland was the third highest in the country at 33 incidents.

The region had five police dog units, with two stationed in the mid to far north last year for the first time.

Mr Ruth said given Northland's geographical spread, police dogs were a good tool and often just having a dog present at a scene was enough to quell any violence.


"Usually we are talking about people who have made a bad decision initially and then they make another bad decision and a dog is deployed."

Mr Ruth said new OC spray, commonly known as pepperspray, which issued in the last six months was up to 12 times stronger than previous sprays. It was very affective and de-escalated violent situations and subdued people quickly, he said.

From the 366 incidents, 12 complaints were made to the Independent Police Complaints Authority - nearly the lowest number in the country.

"It shows we are not overzealous and it shows our staff are using all the tools well," Mr Ruth said.

The Armed Offenders Squad was deployed to 47 callouts, comprising 24 emergencies and 23 pre-planned operations.

Mental health was a relevant factor in 13 per cent of events involving police and use of force in Northland.

"Dealing with mentally-affected people is a big part of the business and in some instances we have to use one of these tools to stop them self-harming," Mr Ruth said.