Are tasers torture?

November 27th, 2007 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

The UN Committee against torture has come out and said tasers are a form of torture.  Well yes they are if they are being used to punish someone.  But that doesn’t answer the question about whether they are a better option for armed offenders than merely shooting them through the heart.

I was interested to see who was on the UN Committee against Torture and after 20 minutes on the God awful UN site I found it.  10 experts – all I am sure fine upstanding people.  The countries they come from though are mixed.  five of them have good human rights ratings (from Freedom House) – Norway, Chile, Spain, Cyprus and the USA.  However we also have the reasonably repressive Senegal and Ecuador, the very repressive Morocco and Russia and the totally repressive China.  So the moral high ground is rather low.

Having said all that, I do repeat that I have some concerns with their use here.  Some Police have misused pepper spray and if they misuse a taser, the consequences can be fatal.  A taser should only be used when pepper spray would not be a safe option for the officer, and no action is not acceptable. They should be a substitute for pistols, not pepper spray.

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49 Responses to “Are tasers torture?”

  1. Right of way is Way of Right (1,125 comments) says:

    Pliers are torture!

    Hammers and drills have been used as instruments of torture.

    An instrument of torture, by definition, must refer to the use of the instrument, not the instrument itself!

    (Is Shortland Street on the list, it bloody well should be!!)

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  2. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    The role of the police is to proect society from those who choose to do harm to others.

    Tazer is torture: so is a truncheon, so is a gun, so is a smack in the head, so are handcuffs, so is control and restraint.

    What exactly is their point?

    Are they suggesting we load a subjective label onto any form of law enforcement, and therefore reduce the role of the police to ‘giving people a good talking to’ (without raising their voices) as a means of dealing with out-of- control criminals?

    Tell you what, when someone loses a loved one because a criminal who could have been immobilised has had their way, would they constitute the hurt and pain that the survivor of that loved one experiences as a form of ‘torture’?

    Or is it that the law-abiding types human rights take second place and the law-breaker’s ‘human rights’ suddenly become enhanced when they are in the process of committing a crime or resisting arrest?

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  3. longbow (130 comments) says:

    are police still using 9 mm glock? i read it like 7 years ago an internal review concluded the 9*19 parabellum bullets do not have enough stop force and in several incidents police have to keep shooting on the target in order to disable him. they planned on getting at least the .40 glocks but i havn’t read any update on this.

    NZ is quite different from the states from the point that not every police officer can carry guns and if we only equip taser to the police officers who are allowed to carry guns (armed offerenders squad, sergeants n higher ranks) than i don’t really see any problem. i’d say taser would be less fatal than shooting half dozen rounds.

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  4. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    S**t I forgot about Shortland Street. If ever there was a case to convene the HRC that has to be it.

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  5. rickyjj (166 comments) says:

    I’m not sure what you mean about moral high ground…

    Surely people from repressive countries have a far better knowledge what is and isn’t torture?

    Like the Chinese would be the torture experts – so if they say something is torture then it probably is. Only if they started saying torture was wrong would it seem a little hypocritical.

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  6. dave (985 comments) says:

    Look, did you realise that hte UN only said that tasers were torture becauswe the US police were using tasers up to THREE times on a person and they died – and in cases where people didnt sign speeding tickets.

    It’s how tasers are used that the UN should be more concerned about. Just like it should be more concerned about child abuse than light smacking of children.But like all things, the UN want to ban the lowest common denominator because of the irresponsibility of the few.

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  7. Graeme Edgeler (3,216 comments) says:

    after 20 minutes on the God awful UN site I found it

    And typing Committee Against Torture into wikipedia found it for me. With a nice link to the UN Website at the bottom just to make sure :-)

    Unlike certain other UN committees, the members the CAT do not represent their countries. They serve as individuals.

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  8. Buggerlugs (1,609 comments) says:

    Correct LB, and the Bushmaster that replaced that Police rifles also has limited stopping power compared to its predecessor. Mind you, none of this discussion will stop Keith Locke from frothing at the mouth for at least 24 hours.
    Listening to him go on, now that’s torture…

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  9. pdm (842 comments) says:

    I was interested in your comment that they should not be a substitute for pepper spray.

    My wife manages a branch of a National Retail chain and a few months ago they had a guy on P go beserk in the store. It took four or five police to subdue him so that they could remove him.

    When my wife asked why they didn’t use something on him they said they could not use pepper spray because it gets into the air conditioning and they would have had to close the store plus it may have made him worse – if that was possible.

    If they had had tazers they would have been able to use one to instantly subdue hime.

    So there are times when a Tazer should be a substitute for pepper spray.

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  10. Nick C (340 comments) says:

    Oh great. We will no doubt hear about this in the house next week when Keith Locke gets up to speak.

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  11. dave (985 comments) says:

    According to the UN, tasers are not torture in NZ as torture does not not include pain or suffering arising from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

    Tasers are lawful sanctions in NZ. Therefore they are not torture. The UN committee never said tasers were torture but their use can constitute a form of torture. Quite different.

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  12. Graeme Edgeler (3,216 comments) says:

    dave’s got it.

    Just like torture can involve water (e.g. waterboarding), or prison (e.g. extended periods of extreme solitary confinement), it can also involve electricity.

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  13. Inventory2 (9,786 comments) says:

    On the balance of things, I think I’d rather be tasered that have to listen to Keith Locke for an extended period – now that WOULD be torture!

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  14. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Well, h-e-l-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-o, Mr Farrar, so some of the UN Committees have members sitting on them who might just be a little bit hypocritical regarding the noble resolutions they pass? W-a-a-a-a-a-k-e-y, w-a-a-a-a-k-e-y.

    The reverence that most NZ-ers have for THE UNITED NATIONS, (hushed tone of voice, bow, scrape, genufluct), is just LUDICROUS if you know anything about how the outfit works. How about the membership of the UN human rights commission, or the nation that holds the chair?

    Most of those that “represent” their nations at the UN, and indeed the governments of those countries, are the JAILERS, MURDERERS, and TORTURERS of “their people”, NOT their “representatives” at all. Clear?

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  15. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    rickyjj, the Chinese at the UN are ALWAYS voting for resolutions on which they are the most FOUL HYPOCRITES imaginable.

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  16. Nigel (503 comments) says:

    Not sure about torure, but this is pretty much on the edge of Police Brutality
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMaMYL_shxc

    It’s a tough call, seems to me it’s a good idea for the NZ Police, though I’d like any use of a taser to be investigated at a level that makes sure it’s usage is very accurately recorded and there are very clear and adequate processes in place to allow any complaints to be fairly heard ( from the Police and recipients perspective ).

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  17. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    Lee C havent you figured it out yet Criminals have all the rights Victims have the responsibility of not putting themselves into harms away.

    I mean if you are dumb enough to get your self confronted by a P crazy who is out to kill or maim you then its your fault.

    You put yourself into that position . In fact its you who should be charged with causing the crim to act against you.

    The Criminal remember is poor misunderstood victim of your insenstive attitudes towards them.

    Your fault mate.

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  18. Linda Axford (55 comments) says:

    http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/11/25/5431/

    This is worth a read: SIX deaths in one week??

    aladin

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  19. freethinker (648 comments) says:

    The problem is distrust of the police,the perception is enough even if the facts don,t support but then the Police do not always accurately & fully provide an account. I am still waiting to read the results of the Christchurch case of 3 police, at least 1 armed who was apparently cornered in the middle of the road by a baseball bat wielding crim who was shot and killed. 4 Shots I believe, are legs/arms to difficult to hit at short range and whats wrong with running and using your backup?

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  20. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    I think the difference between society’s (low) expectations of criminals’ behaviour and their (high) expectations of how Police Officers should behave is often mistaken for some sort of widespread, tree-hugging concern for the rights of criminal thugs. But usually only by angry people with some sort of chip on their shoulder…

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  21. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    It should be pretty easy to mount a camera in each tazer that comes on when it’s pointed, such a system would be safer for everyone.

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  22. goodgod (1,363 comments) says:

    Arguing the pros and cons of tazars is a bit redundant until there is better selection and training of the geezer behind the trigger.

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  23. James K (1 comment) says:

    Phil Best:

    I would just like to clarify your ill informed rant about how bad the UN is. Firstly the Human Rights Commission is now called the Human Rights Council and it is slightly different to the previous body. Secondly the chair (libya) in 2003 is no longer a member of the body. I don’t think the UN is perfect but at least when crticising it get your facts right.

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  24. infused (612 comments) says:

    Just look at how many people have been killed by tasers.

    IMO they should not be bought in.

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  25. Tina (687 comments) says:

    After considering the options the grown ups in a number of overseas jurisdictions believe Tasers are preferable to a couple of police 9mm softpoints.

    Most Taserees probably agree.
    Tho I’m ambivalent.

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  26. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    The evidence does suggest that the risk of death is greatly reduced if you don’t attack a police officer… :-)

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  27. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    “The evidence does suggest that the risk of death is greatly reduced if you don’t attack a police officer… ”

    But if you don’t attack a police officer the risk of being tasered to death should be zero – but it isn’t.

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  28. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Yeah, the cops shouldn’t have any means of defending themselves or society. Anyone who wants to rob, rape, or murder should be able to rely on getting away with it if they plan it well enough and arm themselves.

    And as for stiffer sentences, or the death penalty, nah. The poor dears were only doing what they were doing because they’ve had such a tough life. The victims, though, they musn’t have any entitlement at all to transfer THEIR agony onto the innocent, “the innocent” in this case being the perpetrators of the crime.

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  29. Luke (16 comments) says:

    You put the USA in the good basket??

    Was that because you were afraid if you didn’t someone would mysteriously turn up and fly you to another country and proceed to torture you, just a sec there is someone at the door….

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  30. dad4justice (7,406 comments) says:

    As I have a heart condition, tasers are fatal and do the same amount of damage as a bullet to the head does . It’s the lead or zap ? Oh well such is life said Ned . Maybe the cops could gift wrap my voltage pack now ? Save on the Christmas rush .

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  31. kehua (225 comments) says:

    If dumbfuck kiwis were to behave in many other countries the way they do at home we would have planeloads coming home in boxes. The fact that this is not the case is testament that humans do respect the Law when the alternative is painful or terminal. When was the last time someone walked up to a Lion at Wellington Zoo and kicked him in the nuts?

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  32. slightlyrighty (2,448 comments) says:

    Linda.

    Yes, 6 persons died after being tazered. How many people were tazered to give that result? What is the percentage of those who died from being tazered to those who were tazered and did not die?

    How would that percentage look if all those tazered, were shot?

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  33. baxter (893 comments) says:

    FREETHINKER SAIDI am still waiting to read the results of the Christchurch case of 3 police, at least 1 armed who was apparently cornered in the middle of the road by a baseball bat wielding crim who was shot and killed. 4 Shots I believe, are legs/arms to difficult to hit at short range and whats wrong with running and using your backup?…
    Well perhaps you should ask Constables Murray Stretch or Pete Umbers…
    Sorry you can’t, they were bludgeoned to death..Still you could try their widows. Pete’s two little girls will be adults now….No they could of, but wouldn’t turn and run their oath and sense of duty forbids it.

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  34. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    Are truncheons permanent fixtures of police apparel.

    Police are trained very effectively with these weapons.

    Equating levels of force with force doesn’t seem to be an option favoured by police, but then there were so many situations in the past where tazers and pepper spray were not available.

    The cop who shot the taranaki man had no tazer as the man smashed windows.

    No pepper spray??

    Judged a truncheon that can render unconscious as unreliable?

    Individual officers see the same situation with different confidences.

    They are very, very fast to use the weapons they have at hand.

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  35. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    “As I have a heart condition,”

    You truly are deplorable Cacofinix.

    With a heart condition you hide in anonymity and insult intelligent people.

    Despicable.

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  36. Bykmad (19 comments) says:

    For Christs sake people. Lets look at things. Get shot, Die! Get Tasered, high percentage odds that you will survive. Where is the difficulty. As usual, the Politically correct would rather that Police and innocent people die than criminals be treated as criminals, or, hold on, if they are shot, no prison expenses, nor court expenses, only a funeral.
    Now I see where Keith Locke and the politically correct are coming from. They would like ALL criminals shot and that way Legal Aid is reduced as are Prison expenses??????.
    Simple fix. Issue tasers and save lives.

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  37. Rex Widerstrom (5,124 comments) says:

    Police in Australia tried tasering 4 dogs to stop them attacking a young woman – the dogs didn’t flinch. So either they’re not very effective (unlikely, if they can kill people) or the “trained” police who fired them (several times) didn’t have a clue how to use them.

    As a result the woman had most of her face chewed off, and other injuries, till the cops could get a clear shot at the dogs.

    Add incompetence in their use to the potential for their use to be malicious (d4j – they can maybe order a set for the both of us and get a seasonal discount!) then I’d rather not have the next plod who hassles me armed with one, thanks.

    They’re far less likely to risk shooting me and trying to explain it than tasering me (or anyone else who’s got up their nose) for a bit of fun.

    Used to be guns were only issued by a senior officer on request. Now they’re carried in cars as a matter of course, yet I don’t recall a specific law change allowing this (though I stand to be cotrrected). It’s just become “policy”. How long before the policy is to taser anyone who looks funny at Mr Plod? We need more control over the police, not less.

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  38. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    I actually agree with these clowns from the UN – if someone is fuckwit enough to attack the police, I have no problem with the cops going for “ol’ painless” 9mm between the eyes to save the scumbag the discomfort of being tasered.

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  39. lesterpk (27 comments) says:

    A letter from a policeman from about a year ago.
    Sums it up pretty well if you ask me.

    An open letter…

    To Sir Paul Reeves, Marie Dyberg, Keith Locke, and others.

    It’s so easy to sit in a comfortable office, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and cast the most moral and insightful wisdom on past events. It is another thing to actually make those decisions in a time of crisis.

    To me, it is a question of trust. For the Police to be effective in providing the community with the service they require, the community must trust the Police.

    The Police must on the other hand, deliver that service, to maintain that trust.
    You trust me to go into schools, to teach your children about keeping themselves safe. You trust me to go into the mountains to look for your lost brother, in conditions that no sane person would normally entertain going out in. You trust me to search the parks and stormwater drains for your grandchild who has not returned from school. You trust me to go into your homes to prevent your partner from beating you senseless. You trust me to patrol the inner city streets, when you have long been in bed, to deal with the grossly intoxicated, argumentative and violent mob, who hours earlier were fine upstanding members of my community.
    To be insulted, spat on, and assaulted, not knowing whether my call for urgent back up has been received because I cannot hear my radio due to the noise on the street. You trust me to patrol the highways, to pick up the body of your son, killed in a road smash, or to assist the other services in washing down the road, that which cannot be picked up. You trust me to conduct the investigation into the rape and murder of your grandmother. You trust me to go overseas to deal with all manner of things, from tsunami disasters to civil unrest. You expect, no demand, that I do all of these things unarmed, relying on little more than commonsense and good judgement to keep the public and myself safe.
    Yet you do not trust me to use a non-lethal means of selfdefence – the Taser.

    You do not want the New Zealand Police to be routinely armed. Perhaps it gives you some sort of smug satisfaction that we still live in Utopia. The stark reality is that we do not. Like it or not, New Zealand is populated with a large demographic of violent offenders. There is not a shift that goes by when a police officer is not assaulted.

    One of the reasons that members of the public are willing to physically attack us is that we are unarmed, and the attackers believe that the risk of harm coming to them as a consequence, is very remote.

    If this increased threat is not real, then I ask this question. Why will every frontline officer be wearing body armour early in the new year?
    The answer is so simple. If you do not want to be subdued with a Taser, do not engage in violent behaviour.

    I think you realise that the New Zealand Police are arguably the most trusted and honest police force in the world. There is no corruption or bribery, or systematic patterns of thuggery or violence against innocent members of the
    public.

    Sure there have been, and will be, isolated instances of criminality by individual officers. They will be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent. There is no profession or occupation in New Zealand that is scrutinized more than the Police. My colleagues, my supervisors, the public, the media, defence counsel or ultimately, the courts minutely judge every decision I make.

    So Sir Paul, Marie, Keith and others, climb down from your high horse and walk in the shoes of a police officer for a while, and take time to consider how you would respond in times of crisis. I do not have the option to opt out, turn a blind eye, or telephone the Police from behind the security of my venetians.

    I will do your dirty work for you. But I trust that you will give me suitable tools to do it, so that I can go home to my family at the end of my shift.

    Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxxx
    (Canterbury)

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  40. Tina (687 comments) says:

    And Dave’s life experience as a non-operational individual is revealed if he thinks there is some sort of graded use of self protection senario mostly possible for police.
    Pepper spray has been regularly demonstrated to have nil effect on “ice” users.
    To suggest “A taser should only be used when pepper spray would not be a safe option for the officer, and no action is not acceptable.” is Disneyland decision making.
    The only safe way for a weapon wielding icy is a double tap…sorry…the cop wants to see his children grow up.
    Any social workers wanting to spray him with pepper should talk to the NSW police for an opportunity.

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  41. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    That’s a very strange letter lesterpk, It goes on at length about how the police supposedly need to be, and deserve to be trusted (the word being used in a way that leaves me certain that the author doesn’t know the meaning of the word), but near the end we have this gem:

    “Sure there have been, and will be, isolated instances of criminality by individual officers. They will be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent. There is no profession or occupation in New Zealand that is scrutinized more than the Police. My colleagues, my supervisors, the public, the media, defence counsel or ultimately, the courts minutely judge every decision I make.”

    A paragraph that clearly states that the police are kept under close scrutiny, and gives reasons why this is the case.

    One can only hope that the author of the letter isn’t representative, in terms of intellegence, of the average policeman.

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  42. GNZ (228 comments) says:

    Enough of the smug condescension Andrew,

    Which professions do you think is more scrutinized than the police? I would say there are some, but I don’t know if you could name any.

    and try to play the ball not the man, eh?

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  43. big bruv (12,319 comments) says:

    Andrew W

    I have never been moved to say this about anybody on this site but you Sir are a wanker of the highest order.

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  44. Linda Axford (55 comments) says:

    From slightrighty:

    “Linda.

    Yes, 6 persons died after being tazered. How many people were tazered to give that result? What is the percentage of those who died from being tazered to those who were tazered and did not die?”

    – I would have to assume thousands would’ve been tasered.

    and: “How would that percentage look if all those tazered, were shot?”

    Do you think people should be shot who are running away, refusing to sign a document and protesting at a demonstration?

    aladin

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  45. big bruv (12,319 comments) says:

    “Do you think people should be shot who are running away, refusing to sign a document and protesting at a demonstration”

    Only those protesting at left wing demonstrations obviously

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  46. lesterpk (27 comments) says:

    Some parts of the letter I agree with, some I don’t. I just thought it was a fair call from someone who puts themselves on the line each time they go to work to have the required equipment to ensure they stand a good chance of making it safely home again.
    As I work in a related profession, if the government were to send me off to a conflict area then I and my family would expect that I be given the tools to defend myself should the need arise. Anything less would be unjust.

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  47. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    GNZ, It’s an open letter, I see no reason why it and its authors arguments shouldn’t be open for scrutiny.

    It’s certain there are many occupations whose members are subject to closer scrutiny, the police don’t usually work in places where they are subject to full time CCTV surveillance, as individuals they aren’t subject to anything like the media scrutiny of professional sportsmen or politicians, they dont work for clients who will buy and live in or eat their produce, clients who will examine the quality of the produce closely for very personal reasons.
    So far from being one of the most closely scrutinised professions I would argue that they are one of the least closely scrutinised.

    There were plenty of points about the letter that I didn’t bother covering but now will.

    It is overblown self promoting crap. It’s as realistic as an eposode of CSI or NY blue, giving the impression that a cops life is a series of nonstop battles against the odds when in fact most police time is nothing of the sort.

    The police are well paid to do the job they do, most go about that job in a dilagent and professional manner, I’m not interested in people who try to turn it into something it isn’t, expecting everyone else to believe heroic acts are a frequent occurrance when they are the exception rather that the rule.

    There are people in many other professions around this country, from the farmers and young doctors working all hours to fishermen and foresters who work dangerous jobs, to those poor sods who have the drudgery of checking the line in factories, who are at least as deserving of praise as policemen, but just go on doing their jobs without this endless egotistical self promotion that we get from some cops.

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  48. Rex Widerstrom (5,124 comments) says:

    big bruv, I rather think that if Andrew W’s pointing out that the anon policeman’s letter is:

    a) biased by virtue of his employment (as is my point of view, I might add, having been subject to some of the various forms of official malfeasance the officer claims to be so rare) and
    b) contains a jumbled syllogism that essentially credits the alleged exemplary record of the NZ police with the level of scrutiny under which they are placed while ignoring the reason for that level of scrutiny…

    is sufficient for you to descend to insulting him in that way then either:

    a) you don’t come here often and thus the term ‘wanker’ connotes far less a level of self-abuse than would normally be required to earn the term here or
    b) you misread the quite reasonable point Andrew is making.

    (Do I get a prize for longest unbroken sentence in a comment, DPF?)

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  49. stuart (5 comments) says:

    Haven’t read all the comments so not sure what the general consensus is, but I think tasers are valid forms of self defence, and should also be used by police for their safety as well as the safety of civilians around them and criminals alike.

    However – anything can be abused (including firearms and pepper spray), and this latest story from USA is yet another example of how tasers can be abused by the cops: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/11/27/driver-tasered-for-r.html

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