Friday, 17 December 2010

But isn't that what we'd expect? [updated]

NoRightTurn reports:
Using the publicly published data from the police's one-year taser trial, a team from the University of Auckland investigated the police's use of tasers, with a specific eye on people suffering from mental illness. The results were disturbing. People suffering from mental illness were twice as likely to be tasered than criminals.
Isn't that what we'd expect though? If it's the case that a sane criminal will be way more likely to run away, or to submit, than to charge the police officer while a person with mental illness may be more likely to attack the officer, or even if police expect that to be the case, then the stats aren't surprising.

It's not hard to imagine the decision function: "His eyes looked crazy, like he was going to attack me. I warned him about the taser. When he started to run for me, I tased him."

This part is more worrying though:
Police have also used tasers inside mental health facilities, explicitly threatening to torture patients in order to "induce compliance".
I'd also have thought they'd have better technologies for purpose inside institutional care facilities than tasers.
But that wasn't the only disturbing thing the study found.
Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) and Pacific (people with Pacific Island ethnicities) were over-represented among subjects where ethnicity was recorded (127 of 141: missing data=14). Twenty-eight percent of the sample was Maori and 25% Pacific compared with 14.6% Maori and 6.9% Pacific in the national population (Statistics New Zealand, 2007). Europeans were underrepresented with 31% of all subjects compared to the New Zealand European population of 67.6%.
So, if you're brown, the police will pull a taser on you. If you're white, they won't. It looks like racism is alive and well in our police force.
I'd love to see some adjustment here for overall arrest rates. Wouldn't the more relevant comparison be the prison population rates? If somewhere around 44% of the prison population is Maori, is it that surprising that Maori are also overrepresented in the taser stats?

I'm no Judith Collins; hit the "police state" tab. But this one seems overblown.

Update: Have now RTFA. Points worth noting:
  • The stats are on Taser deployment where the target is painted with the laser. Only 13.5% of the sample actually were hit with the Taser's electrical charge: 19 individual cases.
  • Eight of the nineteen discharges involved mental health emergencies; half of those also involved a health professional. There's no way that sample sizes this small, for actual Taser discharges, tell you much.
  • Here's their description of some use of Tasers in mental illness events:
    Two mental health emergencies occurred in inpatient mental health services. In one incident the person was reported to be “extremely aggressive and violent” and damaging property. In the other report, the person had threatened staff with a pair of scissors. In both situations the police were called by staff and the person was compliant following laser “painting” with the Taser. Another two incidents reported occurred in community residential facilities housing mentally ill persons. In each of these incidents the individuals were reported as having bothmental health problems and being under the influence of substances. One incident took place in a boarding house in which the person was “aggressive and threatening” to residents. The subject was reported to be compliant following laser “painting”. In the other residential facility described as a “half way house for mental health patients” the person was reported as violent and was damaging property. The Taser was discharged on this individual.
    I wouldn't be second-guessing the police at the scene on any of these. If the police were able to get a deranged person who was threatening staff with scissors to stand down simply by pointing the Taser at him, that really doesn't seem like any kind of bad thing.

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