By Hamish Cardwell of RNZ

More than half of those who have been shot at with sponge bullets are Māori, according to police data.

Police have fired sponge bullets in 13 altercations since the weapons were rolled out in 2015, and more than half of those who have been shot at are Māori.

The bullets are large rounds of dense, blunt material designed not to penetrate skin. They are shot from a gas launcher with a range of about 30m.

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The weapons cans only be used by Armed Offenders Squads and Special Tactics Groups.

The data, released to RNZ under the Official Information Act, shows the sponge bullets were fired at Māori on seven occasions, at Pākehā five times, and once against a person defined as being of Middle Eastern, Latin American or African descent.

Māori make up about 16 per cent of the general population.

In 11 of the 13 cases, mental health and suicide were a factor.

Police or the public were threatened in all but one altercation, and in every case the person had a weapon.

All but one of the cases involved men.

People were shot in the groin, neck, abdomen, chest, leg, shoulder and buttock.

Police list the injuries suffered included swelling and bruising, minor cuts and lacerations, and scrapes and abrasions.

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The weapon was pulled out but not actually shot on one occasion during the armed response trial. In that case, a Taser was used instead.

There are 40 of the weapons available to specialist police squads nationwide.

Where to get help:
0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389