Sponge bullets fired at Māori in more than half of incidents - police data

10:26 am on 16 July 2020

More than half of those who have been shot at with sponge bullets are Māori, according to police data.

Police attend the scene of a cordon at Mangere.

The Armed Offenders Squad van. (File image). Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Police have fired sponge bullets in 13 altercations since the weapons were rolled out in 2015, and more than half of those who have been shot at are Māori.

The bullets are large rounds of dense, blunt material designed not to penetrate skin. They are shot from a gas launcher with a range of about 30m.

The weapons cans only be used by Armed Offenders Squads and Special Tactics Groups.

The data, released to RNZ under the Official Information Act, shows the sponge bullets were fired at Māori on seven occasions, at Pākehā five times, and once against a person defined as being of Middle Eastern, Latin American or African decent.

Māori make up about 16 percent of the general population.

In 11 of the 13 cases, mental health and suicide were a factor.

Police or the public were threatened in all but one altercation, and in every case the person had a weapon.

All but one of the cases involved men.

People were shot in the groin, neck, abdomen, chest, leg, shoulder and buttock.

Police list the injuries sustained include swelling and bruising, minor cuts and lacerations, and scrapes and abrasions.

The weapon was pulled out but not actually shot on one occasion during the Armed Response Trial. In that case, a taser was used instead.

There are 40 of the weapons available to specialist police squads nationwide.

Where to get help:

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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