Mentally ill more likely to be shot with a Taser, report finds

  • 02/12/2017
Tasers are more likely to be used if the suspect is mentally ill, a report has found.
Tasers are more likely to be used if the suspect is mentally ill, a report has found. Photo credit: Police/supplied

A health charity wants to see the elimination of Taser use on people with mental illness after a police report showed they have higher chances of the weapons being fired at them.

The 2016 Police Tactical Options Research report release this week showed the likelihood of a Taser actually being used after being pulled out by an officer was significantly higher if the target was mentally ill.

Mental Health Foundation (MHF) chief executive Shaun Robinson says the charity was concerned about the disproportionate use of police force on people with mental health issues.

"Since Tasers were introduced the MHF has consistently warned of the danger for people experiencing mental and emotional distress, and those warnings have proven valid," he said.

Mr Robinson said the use of force needed to be an absolute last resort as Tasers could interact with medication or cause trauma.

He hoped the police's co-response crisis line would lead to the elimination of Taser use on people experiencing mental health problems.

Of the 5000 cases where officers used some form of force last year, 19 percent of those were on someone who was deemed mentally ill or suicidal, the police report found.

Officers were found to have discharged Tasers in every sixth case where one was pulled out, but in a quarter of all cases involving those suffering from mental illness.

Police Superintendent Chris Scahill said communication tactics were often not effective with people who were in mental distress, so officers had to turn to force.

"In a situation where a person is suffering from a mental health crisis, and who is a danger to themselves and others, the Taser continues to prove itself as an effective intervention that ultimately prevents harm to the person themselves, and others present," he said.

In a statement, police said the "vast majority of the thousands of mental health incidents that police deal with every year do not involve the use of force".

The total number of mental health or suicide incidents involving police has been on the rise, with officers responding to about 35,000 call-outs in the past year alone.

NZN