Lisa Owen: Well, on Friday, Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced all front-line police officers will now be armed with Tasers. While for a country that has long prided itself on having police on the beat who weren't routinely armed, it is a huge change. And to discuss it now, I'm joined by national operations and response manager Superintendent Chris Scahill. Thanks for joining us. Why now? Why this decision now?
Chris Scahill: Well, look, I guess we've had Tasers in place now for five years, and we now feel we have a really robust evidence base with quite a lot of data over the use and carriage of Taser over the past five years by our staff to now make that decision to have staff routinely carrying Tasers. And this is front-line response staff.
So why do they need them? Is it more dangerous for police officers out there? Are we seeing more assaults?
This is around just ensuring that safety of the public and the people that we're dealing with and officers themselves. Assaults on police have been coming down over the past five years, but this is about ensuring that the Taser is accessible to all of our front-line staff for those higher-level assaultive type situations where they may be called upon to give a response.
But if your own stats show that assaults on police officers are trending downwards, as are your crime stats trending downwards, why do you need this? Why do you need every officer to be armed with a Taser on the front line?
Well, I would say around our officers, one assault on police is still too many, and one violent situation or highly violent situation involving victims, other members of the public, is obviously one too many. This is an extremely effectively tactical option at the higher level for our staff, which effectively resolves some fairly tense and ugly situations that our staff are still dealing with up and down the length of the country every day.
Well, this is a 50,000-volt, potentially fatal weapon. I mean, what undertaking can you give the public that they're not going to see more cases like the ones that were at the IPCA last year, which found that you had used Tasers illegally and excessively? How can you guarantee that we're not going to see more of those cases?
Look, guarantee-wise, every tactical option is still going to carry its risks no matter what is being used. What I would say is that we've had an extremely low rate of upheld complaints in relation to the use of Taser. We have used the Taser as—shown the Taser, presented the Taser just over 4000 times in the five years that it's been introduced.
We have actually discharged the Taser around 500 times in the past five years. So for example, over the last 12 months, we have only had nine complaints regarding the use of the Taser. And of those, the vast majority were not upheld. Only two out of the nine were actually upheld. So, can I give you 100 percent guarantee? Obviously not. But the rate of injury, the rate of risk with this tactical option is extremely low.
Well, can you give 100 percent guarantee that violence against the public will come down as a result of this new policy, then?
Yeah, I'm sorry, Lisa. I'm not in the business of giving guarantees, but I have to say that all indications—
But you did say. You did say that evidence was it would come down. So can you guarantee that?
I think all indications are that it will come down, will continue to come down – both violent situations encountered by the public , and also the assaults on staff. As I mentioned earlier, for every nine presentations of Taser that an officer makes, it's only needing to be fired once; the other eight occasions, the simple presentation of the Taser effectively resolved the situation, which makes it safer for all.
Critics of Tasers would argue that this is a slippery slope. If you have a Taser on the hip of every front-line officer, it's more likely that you're going to use it to solve situations.
Oh, look, no, the policy around our use of tactical options and the level at which we will use them remains the same. So there's very clear controls and guidelines around that for our staff. They use the Taser for higher level assault situations and beyond. That's a clear model within our tactical options framework. And first and foremost, our staff are communicating with people. That's still our greatest tactical option.
Does this mean we're a step closer, then, to having firearms on every officer on the front line?
No, not at all. And I think you heard the commissioner say on Friday morning – and I certainly have the same view—that I would hope that we do not move to the general arming of police. And certainly, it won't be, at this stage. There would have to be a significant degrading of our environment to see that happen.
Okay, well, it's going to cost about, I think, $600,000 to get the extra Tasers that you're going to need to arm the officers. That would pay for 13 extra front-line police officers. Which would you rather have – the Tasers or the extra police officers?
I think the exponential positive impact we will have from the Tasers gives the clear argument as to the routine arming and expanding of our Taser fleet to meet the level of being able to provide a Taser to every front-line response staff member in New Zealand Police. This will provide positive benefits for our staff, for the public. And as I say, I am quite confident we will see a further reduction in those violent incidents, a decrease of victims, and safer for staff.
Thanks for joining us today. That's Superintendent Chris Scahill. Thank you.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz