Monday, November 26, 2007

Tasers are torture

It's official: tasers are a form of torture. That's the ruling of the Committee Against Torture, the monitoring body for the Convention Against Torture, when discussing the use of tasers by Portugese police:

"The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use," the committee said in a statement.
It goes without saying that I think this is a very good reason not to deploy such weapons in New Zealand. They may have a limited use as a replacement for firearms in certain circumstances, but certainly not as a replacement for pepper spray and hence a routine part of the police arsenal.

But if that's not enough, there's a broader reason to oppose the deployment of tasers or other "nonlethal" weapons, and that is in order to avoid a shift in the nature of our policing and interactions between the police and citizens. At the moment, our police operate under a principle known as "policing by consent", which basically means they focus on actually talking to people, workign with communities, de-esclating conflicts, and minimising the use of force. Increasing the force available for routine use by individual officers runs the risk of shifting this to the American model of "compliance policing", where the police simply order people about, and threaten to shoot/beat/tase/pepper spray them if they refuse. Many of the deaths attributable to tasers are all the more shocking because they are products of that sort of police culture, where police went straight for weapons rather than seeking to reduce conflict, and we've had some disturbing incidents in New Zealand which suggest that the availability of pepper-spray is creating this sort of mindset. And that is a disease I really don't want to see spread. If our police start behaving like Americans, swaggering around with a taser on their hip and their hand hovering near it whenever they talk to people (as Greg O'Connor and Ron Mark seem to think they should), then they will have become more of a threat to ordinary New Zealanders than the people they are supoosedly protecting us from.