6 Nov 2022

No plans for police to replace current taser model

8:00 pm on 6 November 2022
A NZ police-issue taser.

Police are yet to make a decision on potentially replacing their stun-gun tasers. Photo: NZ Police

The police are in limbo over what to do about their stun-gun tasers.

They say "we have not made any decisions" about replacing them and have no plans to trial a new taser or body-worn cameras.

An Official Information Act (OIA) response says the Taser X2 model police use is nearing the end of its life and will no longer be supported by US manufacturer Axon.

But quite what the deadline is remains unclear, with police telling RNZ: "There is currently no change in support from Axon with regards to our current taser model in use nor is there a date this support runs out."

The old tasers have built-in cameras but since 2017, many police forces in the US, UK and Australia have been adding bodyworn cameras (BWCs) instead to record taser-use and other footage.

Smart holsters

Axon's "smart" holsters automatically switch on bodycam recording when guns are drawn.

Police here say they are staying up to date on the technology, and talking with Axon - one of the world's two biggest stungun makers - about options and trials.

"There are currently no plans to trial a new taser or body worn camera at this time," acting assistant commissioner Jason Guthrie said in a statement.

"We are still considering options."

Once they made decisions next year, they would consult the community, Guthrie said.

The wearable camera market that is dominated by security and sports models, is growing at an astonishing rate - from $3 billion worldwide two years ago to a forecast $700b in 2027.

Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing market.

In the UK, more shops are adopting them for safety reasons, and so too, in this country, for bailiffs, with the Justice Ministry introducing bodycams this week.

'Generally positive'

An internal New Zealand police report last year, released under the OIA, on improving frontline safety, is inconclusive about pairing tasers and bodycams.

The report's aim "was to understand the risks and outcomes of implementing a new taser without tasercam", and using bodycams with them instead.

"The risk of not video recording taser encounters would be to have one less type of evidence regarding how the taser was used," it said.

The tension is between civil rights and privacy concerns, and police accountability and transparency, studies say.

The first of the report's 13 key findings was that there was suprisingly little research comparing outcomes from tasers-plus-bodycams, versus tasers-plus-tasercams, and what there was was US-slanted.

Other findings were that studies showed bodycams sometimes reduced police using force, but other times not, or it actually increased - and the same was true of assaults on police.

The use of bodycams did cut public complaints against officers and "can improve public perceptions of procedural justice".

"Public perceptions of police use of BWCs are generally positive, with the public viewing use of the technology and improving police transparency and accountability," the NZ police report said.

A key problem was storing the footage.

"Due to the volume of data to be stored, many international jurisdictions have chosen to store their data on cloud-based third-party systems."

Such storage could cost millions.

A major downside revolved around using tasers against "vulnerable populations", but what impact cameras had on this was unclear.

"There is limited evidence on the impacts of BWCs on marginalised groups, however, there is some evidence to suggest that the presence of the cameras had little impact in alleviating racial disparities."

'What is best for the public?'

Tech creep was another worry.

Bodycam footage could be used for other than evidence collection, with advanced artificial intelligence being applied to "facial recognition, and predictive policing algorithms" for the cameras.

"Concerns have been raised about how these technologies may be used with BWC data, leading to recommendations that the use of such technology should be prohibited."

Despite the police report stating "the decision comes down to two questions: what is best for the public? What is best for the police?" and that "public consultation" is important, the police have had little to say publicly about bodycams.

Instead, acting assistant commissioner Jason Guthrie stressed any decision on where to next would be based on "a rigorous internal process and a fair and robust procurement process".

"This includes input from our staff, various experts, the community and other government organisations to ensure the technology works as intended, is safe, maintains privacy, ethical and human rights, and most importantly improves the safety outcomes for our staff and the public.

"When we do choose and purchase a device for staff, we will also share that information with our communities so people understand what we are doing to keep them, and our staff, safe," he said.

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