Thursday, October 05, 2006

And they expect us to trust them with tasers?

At the moment, the New Zealand police are trialing the use of tasers as a "less than lethal" response to aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, there's yet another story of the abuse of pepper spray to "induce compliance". A police constable is currently on trial for assault for using pepper spray on a person at a party. According to another officer present,

Constable Donna Olliver said yesterday that she was outside Mr Viane's [the victim's] house with the constable.

She saw them talking and heard Mr Viane say he wanted to go and see his girlfriend. At one point, the constable had put up his hand as if to tell Mr Viane to stop talking.

Mr Viane did not have anything in his hands, was not aggressive and seemed submissive.

He was not confrontational, but he was not listening to what the constable asked him.

Ms Olliver said Mr Viane went to take a step, to bypass the constable who got out his pepper spray and used it in his face. Mr Viane fell to the ground holding his face in his hands.

She said the constable turned and said: "I'm sick of f. . . . . . telling him."

Ms Olliver said she did not hear the constable tell Mr Viane he was under arrest.

So, disagree with a policeman, and get pepper sprayed. That's not what this weapon is for. And they expect us to trust them with tasers?


This is obviously an exceptional situation, the officer concerned is being tried for assault, and a fellow officer is testifying against him.

This seems to be an example of the system actually working, for a change.

I don't have much sympathy for police who are power-hungry little hitlers (and there are still way too many for comfort), but in this instance, he seems to be getting his just desserts.

Regarding pepper spray in general, you know, I'd rather get done with that than assaulted with a bloody baton, which is the other alternative. Broken bones are not fun. In terms of state-sanctioned violence, it's pretty mild. It's things like this I'd be more concerned about.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/05/2006 11:27:00 PM

Trix: This is an exceptional incident, because it has resulted in prosecution. Most don't (hmmm... there's an interesting OIA request buried there). For example, no-one was prosecuted for this, or for this. The police seem to be generally quite happy for pepper spray to be misused to "induce compliance", rather than for its intended purpose of subduing aggressive and violent suspects.

You're right that its generally speaking better to be pepper sprayed than beaten with a baton - but its better still for the police not to use violence unless it is absolutely required. Allowing pepper spray seems to have lowered the threshold at which they consider violence acceptable, precisely because it does "no lasting harm" (the rights of the victim not apparantly being considered in the equation). But in these circumstances, if the police are not going to show the desired level of restraint, then I think its probably a good idea not to give them tools which it seems certain they will abuse.

The Guardian had an article today about the microwave Active Denial System here - and I agree, it's the sort of weapon police forces should never be allowed to have.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/06/2006 12:03:00 AM

I take your point on the gratuitous use of pepper spray. However, if the taser is deployed as a substitute to guns in armed offender type situations, is it not rather strange to argue that although police can shoot someone with bullets (i.e. use lethal force in self defence) they can't use a taser in that same situation?

Posted by John : 10/06/2006 04:15:00 PM

I believe that asthmatics and people with allergies can have pretty nasty responses to a face full of pepper spray. I think I'd prefer to take my chances with the baton...

Posted by Chris : 10/06/2006 04:30:00 PM

Trix: then people I know must have been in exceptional situations too.

Thankfully we do have a system that allows people to hold the police to account, but that system isnt anywhere near consistently enough for me to trust the police, on account of the minority.

One point that hasn't been made much of is that (as far as I know) it's a hell of a lot easier to inflict extreme suffering with a taser and have little physical evidence, than it is with a baton.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/06/2006 06:19:00 PM

John: I have no objections whatsoever to taking the police's guns off them and replacing them with tasers, to be used only under the same strict operational guidelines. But what I'm worried is that they are far more broadly available, and that this availability will cause them to use force when they otherwise wouldn't. Given that the police use force far too much as it is, this is simply asking for trouble.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/06/2006 08:36:00 PM