Mental health Taser shock

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2013

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A disproportionate number of people with mental health issues are being stung by Tasers, figures show.

Since the nationwide rollout of Tasers in March 2010, they have been drawn by police officers 1320 times and discharged 212 times.

The battery-powered stun guns fire electric barbs, which penetrate a person's skin and deliver a shock of up to 50,000 volts.

Numbers released under the Official Information Act show nearly a third of those hit were considered by police to have mental health issues.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said they had always feared those with mental health problems would be a target for officers using Tasers and the figures confirmed that.

She was also concerned by the lack of research around the long-term effects of the weapons' use, particularly because those with psychological issues often had physical problems too.

In 2010, Auckland University researchers looked at statistics gathered from the trial period of Taser use and described it as "a matter of some urgency that the existing memorandum of understanding between the police and the mental health services is reviewed to monitor the use of Tasers".

Auckland University's senior lecturer in nursing, Anthony O'Brien, found Tasers were much more likely (27 per cent) to be discharged at mental health emergencies than at criminal arrests (10 per cent) and warned their use would need to be monitored as the weapons were more widely used.

In 2011 there were 621 Tasers used by police but that number ballooned to 908 when more were bought last year.

"Once you start giving that sort of weapon to police it's highly likely it's going to be used," Clements said. "They'll say it's a last resort but once they're armed with it, whether it becomes a last resort is questionable."

Further statistics released to the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act show there are serious reliability issues around the weapons.

Since Tasers were formally introduced in March 2010, 530 have been withdrawn from service and sent to the police armoury for repairs.

Despite the problems, only one weapon had failed to fire and administer a shock since they had been rolled out.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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