3 Dec 2017

'It's a crisis in their healthcare, not a criminal act'

6:56 am on 3 December 2017

The police are wrong to use Tasers on people with mental health issues, mental health advocates say.

A NZ police-issue taser.

Mental health advocates say the police are wrong to use tasers on people with mental health issues. Photo: NZ Police

The police's latest Tactical Options Research report charts the use of force in 2016, including handcuffing and Taser use.

The report shows that the likelihood of a Taser being used - after being unholstered - was higher if the target was mentally distressed.

Officers were found to have used Tasers in a quarter of all cases involving those with mental illness but only every sixth time against others.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said they warned police from the start that Tasers would negatively impact people with mental health issues.

"It's an unacceptable situation for people who are essentially going through a health crisis," Mr Robinson said.

They are extremely vulnerable people and shouldn't be met with violence, he said.

"It's a crisis in their healthcare, not a criminal act."

Using shocks on people in mental distress can add to trauma, he said.

The police said only a very small number of cases lead to Taser use and most are resolved through communication.

"Given the number of incidents Police deal with every day, the use of Taser and firearms represents a very small percentage of these interactions," the police said in a statement.

It shows that nearly all of recorded face-to-face interactions between the police and public didn't involve the use of tools such as handcuffs, Tasers and restraints.

But the report also shows that Taser use increased by nearly 30 percent - from 998 cases in 2015 to 1290 cases in 2016.

Mr Robinson said mental health cases are increasing due to "patchy approach" the country takes to resourcing and understanding mental health.

There has been a 75 per cent increase in demand for mental health services across the board, over the last decade, he said.

He said the police are increasingly having to deal on their own with call outs that actually require mental health experts.

"The police are left with the very difficult task of dealing with the cumulative failures in other parts of the system."

The police need the support of a well-resourced crisis-response within the mental health system that is compassionate, Mr Robinson said.

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