Officers won't get trigger-happy with Tasers - police

Tasers have a much lower injury rate than police dogs (Simon Wong/3 News)
Tasers have a much lower injury rate than police dogs (Simon Wong/3 News)

One of the country's top cops says arming all frontline police officers with Tasers is not a step towards a United States-style fully armed police force.

National manager in response and operations Superintendent Chris Scahill says it would take a "significant degradation" in our society for that to happen.

Last week Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced Tasers would be carried at all time by appropriately trained police 'level one' response staff, of which there are currently about 5500. Currently, Tasers are kept in a lockbox in vehicles.

Supt Scahill says in the last five years Tasers have been presented on 4000 different occasions, but only discharged 500 times.

"Out of all of those cases, the injury rate has been around 1 percent – typically that's from people scraping their nose when they've fallen over after being Tasered," he said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

That's compared to an injury rate of 88 percent when police dogs are set upon suspects.

"I'm a fan of the Taser," says Supt Cahill. "I think it's a great option for resolving some really high-end situations that make it safer for everybody there, including the person themselves."

He doesn't believe that giving officers the option of using a Taser without having to retrieve it from the car will see more people Tasered unnecessarily.

"We still have very strict controls around when the Taser can be used, and every time a Taser is used and discharged, we have a national Taser assurance forum that views that Taser footage.

"And of course we have the IPCA as well, where people can make complaints. Out of the hundreds of Taser uses every year – for example, last year we had nine complaints to the IPCA, of which two out of the nine were upheld. It's pretty low numbers."

The first option is always trying to talk people down, and the use of a Taser is "right up in what we would call the assaultive range – where you have people who are threatening or using violence", just below the use of firearms, as was the case in Sunday night's shooting of a robbery suspect in Auckland's Myers Park.

"A firearm is a lethal tactical option, so we're talking extreme high-level there," says Supt Scahill.

"Obviously you don't take a Taser to a gunfight. If somebody is armed with a firearm and using or threatening to use that firearm, the officer has to be considering what tactical option they're going to employ."

Police Association President Greg O'Connor also backs the Taser rollout, but unlike Supt Scahill, sees it as a step towards fully arming our police force. Mr O'Connor has long called for frontline officers to be armed, often fronting for the media in the wake of violent crimes or incidents where police have had to deal with armed suspects.

He says it will probably take a serious incident to give lawmakers the "political will" to do it, however.

3 News