Police's decision to conduct operational trials of the Taser was made after a thorough study of all the major less lethal technology in use by police agencies around the world, the Assistant Commissioner for Crime and Operations, Peter Marshall said today.
Mr Marshall was releasing the Project Lincoln report which explored all the less lethal options, including the Taser.
"As the result of a number of high profile incidents involving the use of force five years ago, the then Commissioner directed a review of the use of less than lethal weapons options available for New Zealand Police," said Assistant Commissioner Marshall.
"Given current public debate about operational trialling of the Taser later in the year it is timely to release the Project Lincoln report to show that the Taser was just one of a number of less lethal options considered by New Zealand Police," the Assistant Commissioner said.
Project Lincoln included an assessment of the continued suitability of the semiautomatic pistol as the standard handgun, and of the potential suitability of defensive equipment such as armoured vehicles.
Project Lincoln was formed to encompass a review of the way Police deal with violent offenders to ensure the tactics and equipment options are the most effective, and least likely to endanger the safety of police staff, public or offenders.
Assistant Commissioner Marshall said the report examined a wide range of options before determining those most suitable for New Zealand conditions for further trial and evaluation.
"The Lincoln report is based on extensive information and experience drawn from international sources," said Mr Marshall.
"Among the options considered were the continued use of OC Spray, the examination of less lethal weapons such as the taser, sock rounds, sponge round and encapsulated round, along with a differential response model and armour protected vehicles.
Endorsement of continued use of OC Spray
The Report conclusively endorsed the continued use of OC Spray the main means of personal protection for front line officers. The Spray, which passed in all aspects of the evaluation, has become an integral part of New Zealand Police's protective equipment.
Following extensive research and identifying relevant reports from substantive international sources, Project Lincoln recommended a range of options to establish the safest and most effective less-than-lethal weapon for use in dealing with violence and disorder.
Of the options recommended in the report for further trials only the taser has been approved by the Police Commissioner to undergo a field trial.
Assistant Commissioner Marshall said the report also contained a proposal to review alternative models of response to critical incidents involving firearms. Currently New Zealand Police are unarmed, but do have access to firearms when circumstances demand it.
Enhanced differential response model (EDRM)
An enhanced differential response model (EDRM) currently in use in the UK could potentially be adapted for New Zealand. Basically the EDRM provides for the deployment in Metropolitan areas of "armed response vehicles" crewed by Police trained in the use of firearms and less than lethal weapons to respond to incidents involving firearms or extreme violence.
Officers in other areas would have access to firearms much as they do now but would be required to take regular firearms training.
The recommendation in the report to look at the model was considered by the Police Executive but it was decided that the current model of Armed Offender Squads was preferable given New Zealand's geography, number of armed incidents and overall police resource levels.
Armour protected vehicles
The need for the use of armour protected vehicles was also looked at by the Project team.
"The need for such vehicles in the policing environment has been demonstrated both during the Aramoana incident in 1990 and the Fielding shooting in 2002, and there is an emerging need for suitable vehicles for VIP protection and related duties." - Project Lincoln
Police have reached an understanding with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) over access to the Army's Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) should the need arise.
Technology options not proceeded with
There were a range of options examined by the Project Team that were likely to attract considerable interest and comment and for a variety of reasons have either been discarded as unsuitable for New Zealand conditions, been subjected to non-operational tests or put aside until more reliable information becomes available.
Those options that were subjected to non-operational testing, and were discarded included:
12 gauge Sock Rounds
The sock round typically consists of a tear-shaped bag made from cotton and ballistic material blend filled with #9 shotgun pellets and weighing some 40 grams. It is loaded into a 12 gauge shotgun cartridge and fired from a smooth bore 12 gauge shotgun.
The round has an effective range of some 22 - 23 metres with its optimal energy range being 6 - 15 metres. When used at this range the round provides sufficient accuracy to target the large muscle areas of the buttocks, thigh and legs producing sufficient pain and effect on movement of the subject to incapacitate without significant injury.
Due to the rounds lower velocity it has been shown that two or three shots are usually required to ensure compliance. Therefore, while accuracy is critical to the successful use of the sock round, the potential need to use more than one round means that a very managed and measured approach to the application of force can be used.
The sponge round was developed by the US Army Research Laboratory for use by the US Military in peacekeeping operations. The development of the round took some five years during which considerable research and testing was undertaken to ensure the round was accurate and its impact did not cause penetration.
The round is fired from a 40mm launcher.
The large surface area of the round and the dampening effect of the sponge material used contribute to the impact energy being distributed evenly over a large area, thereby reducing the chances of penetration.
The US Army Research Laboratory concluded that "from the results, it appears as though an acceptable compromise between effectiveness and lethality has been achieved...".
Encapsulated rounds, sometimes referred to as long range chemical delivery devices, include projectiles that contain a liquid, powder or other material within a protective coating or shell. Upon impact the shell, which may contain OC powder or a dye, is designed to break and the contents dispersed.
These rounds combine the effects of impact and the contents of the shell to bring about incapacitation or to enable future identification of the subject. The impact velocity of such weapons is at the very low end of the scale for impact munitions and the greater reliance is on the contents.
These devices are designed to be discriminatory and fired directly at a subject or at the ground in front of the subject.
The advantage of these devices is that they can deliver their contents to a target at a much greater distance than hand held devices.
Large OC Spray units
Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray belongs to the chemical irritants family of less lethal weapons. It is derived from the capsicum species of pepper that contains a naturally occurring product named capsaicin. Capsaicin is responsible for the hot sensation associated with curry and other spicy dishes.
Currently available are large (fire extinguisher size) OC spray containers that can be used for siege situations for instance when it is not applicable to use firearms against the subject. The NSW and Victoria Police make use of this weapon within their tactical groups. One such device is manufactured in Australia and known as the "Pratt Device". It contains 5% OC with an alcohol base and projected with the aid of compressed liquid CO2 and has an effective deployment range of up to 10m.
Such large capacity OC sprays have potential as a less lethal weapon for specialised units and should be considered further.
Assistant Commissioner Marshall said the Lincoln Project report is an invaluable source for future reference and in keeping New Zealand Police abreast of developments in policing technology.
"The primary objective for considering less lethal options to deal with violence and disorder is the safety of members of the community and Police staff."