Editorial - Coming clean on drones

Last updated 08:31 09/01/2013

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Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements is off beam, with her concerns about people with mental health problems being a target for police officers using Tasers. The statistics, true, show Tasers have been discharged 212 times since being introduced nationwide in March 2010 and a disproportionate number of people with mental health issues - almost a third - have been among those zapped by the stun guns.

Ms Clements, moreover, has a valid point in lamenting the lack of research around the long-term effects of the weapon's use. People with psychological issues often have physical problems, too, she observes.

But the data do not show police are targeting people with mental health problems. That would require the police, when patrolling our streets, to be looking especially for people with mental health problems to stun. Identifying their target would be challenging: which of us looks like we are mentally enfeebled?

More likely, people are tasered for refusing to respond to police requests to put down a weapon. Those who do not are likely to have mental health issues.

The Tasers were introduced after widespread public debate. But the police have been coy about their plans for spy drones - or unmanned aerial vehicles. The Ombudsman had to intervene on 3 News' behalf last August before confirming they were "evaluating the value of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for operational purposes".

Police Association president Greg O'Connor has enthused this was innovative, smarter, cheaper and more efficient, and: "Why wouldn't police use it?" But he is a zealous champion of equipping the police with firearms, too. Both proposals raise contentious issues.

In the case of UAVs, aviation regulators warn of safety risks as an increasing number of them take to the skies. Privacy issues are raised, too. Civil libertarians want safeguards before the technology is introduced, and while the police insist they will be operating within the law, too often they have been found to have operated illegally during surveillance operations.

Those privacy and safety concerns were raised months ago, but the police have pressed on without addressing them. This suggests they are disinclined to participate in any debate about the risks, benefits or need for regulation. The maintenance of law and order is ill served by this indifference.

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- Waikato Times

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