Cracker by Damian Christie

Bombs Away

As any Aucklander will attest, getting a mention in the NZ Herald’s ‘Sideswipe’ section is about as good as life gets. My mum certainly thinks so. Sure, she was happy when I told her I was off to Oxford. She was very pleased for me that I’d got a cool new job on the telly…

But the day that I was mentioned in Sideswipe, I'd never seen her happier. Within minutes she was frantically calling Aunts and Uncles all across the greater Auckland area: “Did you see it?”

As it turned out, it wasn’t even me that had earned the rare privilege, but instead an impersonator (Wallace Chapman, but enough about him already) using my name to try and buy a Taser over the radio.

So the Taser trial starts today. Shall we place wagers on whether there’ll be a Tasering this weekend? I bet there are a few itchy trigger fingers out there…

I went to the Taser demonstration in Porirua, the one that’s been splashed all over the telly and the papers. It was a great morning out, although it would’ve been soooo much more entertaining if the police getting zapped were dressed in uniform, rather than dressed as archetypal criminals (the look for baddies this spring: Bush-shirts). I probably shouldn’t say that, but you know what I’m talking about, right?

Superintendent John Rivers, who is in charge of the trial, made a good point at the demonstration. Most of the objections about the Taser coming here have to do with issues of trust in the police, rather than the weapon itself. And it’s a fair comment, because as I’ve written before, I’ve seen and heard enough to have limited – but still considerable – faith in our thin blue line. It’s of some reassurance that for now the Taser will only be wielded by officers with two or more years’ experience. Again, from personal experience, police officers with a few grey hairs seem to have a lot less to prove than their juniors.

The first question to be asked is do the police need these things? The list of police injuries by weapon type in 2005 was quite informative. How many police injured by firearms last year? None. How many injured by a telephone? One. A shoe? Two (I can’t help but think of Sione’s jandal-weilding Mum from Bro Town). They’ve even got a category defined as “some sort of weapon”. Last year three police were injured by “some sort of weapon”. The point is, how at risk are our police in a country where they are infinity times more like to be assaulted with a shoe than a real live gun?

Secondly, I think it’s notable that the police refuse to be drawn on how many times they expect the Taser to be deployed during the trial. Not even a ballpark. The Taser can be deployed against a spectrum of assailants (from “Assaultive” to “Death/GBH”). There are already a number of alternatives available to police in these situations, such as batons and dogs, to the carotid hold and firearms. Wouldn’t you suspect that given the choice between pulling out a baton, or a shiny new unused Taser, most people would opt for the latter? On the other hand, given the choice between a zap and a bullet to the chest, wire me up and call me Tinkles.

None of this would matter too much if the Taser was completely safe, as in non-fatal. As Keith explains far better than I can be bothered (and he has great video links too), there are deaths associated with Taser use. (I should point out, while Keith refers to the Taser as "less than lethal", the preferred term is "less lethal" - it's a subtle but important distinction) The police seem to dismiss some of these as being linked to people all hepped up on alcohol/drugs. But in the same breath, Supt Rivers pointed out that seventy percent of people arrested on the weekend are similarly under the influence. So wouldn’t it be good to have a little more information about exactly what the risk is for those people? Hey, I’m as against taking drugs on the weekend as the next person but if a device intended to incapacitate has any risk of killing someone on the spot, then maybe we should think twice. Arming the police by stealth is one thing, killing people with amphetamine psychosis is quite another. Although I quite like the idea of an LTSA-style billboard that says “Get High. Fry. Die”. Just ‘cos it rhymes.

Anything else? Not really. Except, um, that I love you. Have a good weekend. Oh, and ten dollars worth of Bonus Bonds to the first person who can verify they were Tasered this weekend.

Update: The remake of Dambusters I wrote about in May, which Peter Jackson then said he wasn't going to be making - well now he is again. Choice.