Monday, July 06, 2009

Mission creep

When the police were trialling tasers, their opponents (including myself) warned that their introduction would inevitably result in "mission creep", from being used as a "less than lethal" option in dealing with violent suspects to being used casually to induce compliance for the police's convenience. It gives me no pleasure to be able to say I told you so:

The man at the centre of a stand-off with police in Hamilton this morning has given himself up after police pointed tasers at him.


The bare-chested man kept police at bay for close to three hours as he waved sticks in the air.

He occasionally used the sticks to beat on the ground and slash at surrounding bush.

Think about that for a moment: faced with a violent, but contained and not immediately threatening suspect, police threatened him with electrical torture purely for their own convenience. They couldn't be bothered waiting around for a few more hours while they talked the suspect down, so out with the tasers.

This is not how we were told tasers would be used. When they forced them on our society, the police said they would only be used to deal with violent offenders in immediately threatening conditions, and that they would be subject to the same restrictions as firearms. They would not have dreamed of threatening this man with a gun. Therefore they shouldn't have threatened him with a taser. It is that simple.

The taser experiment has failed. It is producing a shift from "policing by consent" to US-style "compliance policing", where the police routinely threaten force against the population in order to ensure their obedience. And that is not the sort of police force or the sort of society that New Zealander's want.

The police need to have their electric torture toys taken off them. And the officers who threatened to use them today in circumstances where they clearly amounted to unreasonable force should be prosecuted for assault.