Monday, June 09, 2008


For the past two years, the police have been pushing to add tasers to their armoury. Between September 2006 and September 2007, they ran a trial, with use restricted to certain areas of Wellington and Auckland to see whether they were effective (for what?). The results of the trial were published on the web, including reports on every incident in which they were used.

Now it turns out those reports were sanitised. At least, that is the view of the Chief Ombudsman, who in a scathing review [PDF] takes the police to task for their refusal to release full incident reports. The police had claimed that this would, among other things, infringe the privacy of individual police officers even if their names were removed; as the Ombudsman points out, the logical extension of this is that the privacy exemption applies to every document produced by a public servant. The police also attempted to claim that any release would prejudice the maintenance of law and order, and prevent police officers from properly filling in their paperwork - claims the Ombudsman similarly dismissed as nonsensical. As for the public interest, the Ombudsman is quite clear about where it lies:

Given that the decision on whether to equip Police with Tasers is an executive one, with no provision for Parliamentary oversight, Cabinet approval, or Ministerial sign off, I consider that there is a particularly strong public interest in the accountability and transparency of the Commissioner’s decision-making on this issue. In my view the best way to ensure this, is for the process to be as open and transparent as possible.

The Police have argued that the proactive release of the Taser summaries on the Police website has already met this public interest consideration. I disagree.

The trial has been run by the Police, the summaries have been written by Police, and the refusal to release any of the “raw data” from the pilot to outside parties has meant that there does not appear to have been any external review of how the Police have conducted the pilot. The production of these reports therefore seems inadequate to address the principle of accountability.

Secondly, I have read the summaries and compared them with the tactical options report accounts. In my view, many of the summaries are extremely brief, and have the effect of “sanitising” the original reports.

These are strong words for an Ombudsman - she is essentially accusing the police of lying to the public and feeding us shit in order to push through a decision without any public oversight. They should not be allowed to get away with that in a democracy - and when the full information is released, hopefully they won't.