Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No limits

On Labour Day in 2006, four police officers repeatedly assaulted a mentally ill man in a cell at Whakatane police station. After beating him about the head with batons, they locked him in a cell, and sprayed pepper spray into it for ten minutes - treatment which certain constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment, and may constitute torture under New Zealand international law.

A Tauranga jury just found all four of them not guilty on all charges.

The upshot? There are no limits on the police's use of force in New Zealand. "Reasonable force" means "whatever seems reasonable to a power-crazed authoritarian thug at the time", and includes prolonged beating and even torture. The jury made a terrible mistake today, and we will all bear the consequences for it.

Given this decision, one thing is clear: if these are the ground rules, we can never allow the police to use tasers. Given the complete lack of oversight, the risks are simply too great.