Frontline policing is a dynamic, unpredictable and sometimes volatile environment, where Police and the public can sometimes come into contact, in highly charged situations.
With approximately 3.5 million recorded face-to-face interactions with the public each year, and only 5,000 Tactical Options Reporting (TOR) events, Police ‘use of force’ remains relatively rare. Less than 1% of face-to-face interactions with the public resulted in the use of a tactical option. In other words over 99% of recorded face-to-face interactions with the public are peaceful.
Public perception of Police ‘use of force’ remains positive. The 2016 Public Perceptions of Crime survey showed 82% of New Zealanders agree or were neutral that Police use appropriate force when required. As the potential for harm can be high in every day policing, it’s crucial they have the tools, training, and support they need to respond to these situations as effectively as possible. When police officers use certain tactics or tactical equipment such as batons, OC spray, TASER and firearms to resolve violent or potentially violent situations, they report it in what is called a Tactical Options Report.
Our 2015/16 research shows that most of the tactical options used were lower levels of force such as empty hand tactics, handcuffs or restraints, and OC spray. Firearms, dogs, baton, and other tactical options were used the least frequently.
Communication is still one of the most important tools an officer has at their disposal. The vast majority of incidents (including most violent confrontations) are resolved by talking to the people concerned. Given the number of incidents Police deal with every day, the use of TASER and firearms represents a very small percentage of these interactions.
For example, if an officer successfully resolves an incident through communication only, then they do not report this, but if they started resolving the incident with communication and it didn’t work and they had to use OC spray, then they would complete a report.
While New Zealand Police still remains a routinely unarmed force, it is critical officers have access to all the tools they need to keep themselves and the public safe. The availability of all options gives officers tools that have proven extremely successful in de-escalating potentially dangerous situations that might otherwise have required firearms to be used.
Police has approximately 7,500 frontline (~ 80%) response staff trained in the use of TASER. The total number of TOR events involving the deployment of a TASER has increased by 29% from 998 (2015) to 1,290 (2016). For every six times TASER is presented it is actually discharged only once.
One of our areas of focus is the training of threat and risk assessment. During the course of any day, Police can deal with people in mental health distress or people who are adversely affected by alcohol and drugs or are emotionally charged. It’s our training that helps officers choose the most appropriate response to the situation and behaviours of members of the public facing them. The vast majority of the thousands of mental health incidents that police deal with every year do not involve the use of force.
Assaults on Police has stayed around the same level, with total number of serious assaults on Police (including Crimes Act and Summary Offences Act) increasing slightly from 1,701 (2015) to 1,723 (2016) and the number of serious assaults causing injury decreasing slightly from 251 (2015) to 247 (2016). This is reassuring given this result occurred in the context of increasing population growth.
Any use of force carries an element of risk to those it may be used against. Obviously we do not want to see anyone injured, or worse, however, the Police’s prime objective is to protect the public and themselves, and their response will be dictated by the situation they are confronted with.
The public release of Tactical Options Research Reports positions Police at the forefront of international best practice in transparency and accountability for police use of force. The reports are available here
Issued by Police Media Centre