The police will be issued tasers. This is a controversial move but is a good one overall.
We live in an increasingly violent society. Despite what you might think from the movies, New Zealand’s overall violent crime rate is over twice that of the USA, and Auckland’s violent crime rate is comparable to that of American cities such as Washington DC.*
Police are confronted with violent offenders on our streets. They need to be able to protect themselves and everyone else.
At present they can use a baton, pepper spray, or a gun. In an extremely violent situation, they will be forced to shoot an offender. Police are reluctant to shoot anyone in NZ because the media generally comes down like a ton of bricks on that however well justified, and whatever harm the police may have prevented by shooting an offender will be ignored in the hysteria over the fact that a policeman actually shot someone.
With tasers they have a non-lethal option they can resort to, where pepper spray is not effective enough but a gun is unnecessary. This should reduce the number of people who are shot by police.
Many people have serious concerns about tasers. Some people have reportedly died after being tasered. This is unfortunate, and needs to be considered when they are used. However you have a much higher chance of surviving being tasered than you have of surviving being shot. Despite their flaws they do have their place in law enforcement.
Other people are concerned they will be overused by police. It is difficult to define overuse, as for some people even being used once would be considered overuse, but this is a valid concern too. They will be used more often than pistols are used, because as they are (generally) non-lethal police will be less hesitant to use them than they currently are to use a firearm, for the reasons outlined above. This may act as a deterrant to criminals and reduce overall crime rates, so will not necessarily be a bad thing. However often they are used, someone will be able to use the figures to say this is overuse and someone else will be able to say they are not using them enough. “Overuse” is a matter of perception.
If we are concerned the police may not use weapons appropriately, we cannot approach this by not giving them weapons just in case they use them. We must instead ensure they are trained appropriately in their use, and if there are problems with police misconduct we must confront these directly, rather than endangering the lives of all police officers and the public because of the alleged misconduct of a few individuals.
It is also important that the taser is not issued instead of firearms, but in addition to them. Police will confront armed offenders sometimes (we have a high rate of gun ownership and it is easy for criminals to obtain weapons), and need the tools to deal with this. Tasers are short-range weapons. If a policeman is encountered by a criminal with a shotgun he needs something more effective at his disposal than a taser. The taser can complement firearms, but not replace them.
Tasers, pepperspray and firearms are all last resort tools to stop criminals in the act of committing crimes. In order to actually reduce crime rates we must do much more than just issue tasers. We need to look at the root causes of crime – which often comes back to the family. Children from broken families, especially when the father is absent, are much more likely to get into crime than children raised by both parents. We need to strengthen families, and stop crimes from occurring in the first place, as well as providing police with the tools to deal with crime as it is occuring.
Unfortunately recent laws around discipline (the s59 amendment makes both smacking and physical restraint for punishment, such as a “naughty mat”, illegal) are likely to decrease discipline in the home, increasing crime rates in the future. We must support families, rather than undermining them, if we wish to change our escalating crime rates.
And if you are still worried about tasers – don’t break the law!
* “Gun Shy” – Investigate Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 77, June 2007, p42-49
Violent crime rates 2005:
- USA: 469.2 offences per 100,000 population
- New Zealand: 1,180 offences per 100,000 population.
- Washington DC: 1,459 / 100,000
- Auckland: 1,236 / 100,000
- Counties Manukau police district: 1,621 / 100,000