Insights from the New Zealand Police and Community Tactical Options Reference Group

A small but unique group recently met at ADLS’s Chancery Chambers premises in Auckland to consider issues surrounding the use of force by police and how tactical decisions are made at the frontline of police operations. Such matters are obviously hugely important involving, as they do, potential for serious injury or even, on occasions, the loss of life.

Marie Dyhrberg QC

Known as the “Police and Community Tactical Options Reference Group”, it was set up in December 2009 by the then Assistant Commissioner Viv Richards, at a time when there was considerable debate about the lack of transparency and openness in respect of the introduction of Tasers in New Zealand and concern in the community about the potential for their disproportionate use against already marginalised groups, whether due to race, mental health issues and/or substance abuse problems, etc.

Terms of reference

The Group was set up through a Charter which sets out the Group’s main purposes and responsibilities, including:

  • to identify key issues of interest, importance, and/or concern about police tactical deployment that would benefit from further examination;
  • to work towards more co-operative and mutual understanding of the issues, in this area of the policing environment;
  • to provide direction and input into key issues, applicable to other forums – including police and partner organisations, and public debate around tactical options/ use of force issues;
  • to improve police policy and practice in this area of the policing environment; and
  • to facilitate improved public awareness of the issues and options facing police in dealing with difficult situations, and the mechanisms through which these may be managed by police and others, and the opportunity to do better in a manner that best protects the person, the police and the general community.

Put simply, it is a group of independent thinkers who through their various professional roles are well placed to advise and debate tactical options, policies, procedures and how they are implemented and what quality controls ought to put in place.

Tactical Options Group

What does the Group do?

Since the Group was established it has made comments and provided advice in respect of Taser usage, restraints, sponge bullets etc. Over the last few years, it has reviewed research on the use of force, both stemming from police and international research. As part of this, it attended and submitted a paper to the International Police Taser Forum in Wellington, where it had the opportunity of presenting a paper and work-shopping with police and other representatives from New Zealand, Australia, England, New Zealand, Singapore and the US.

While the Group is mindful that police officers have to make tactical options decisions in the heat of the moment and often in extremely difficult circumstances, it considers that policy-making regarding police operational tactics should continue to reflect the fact that New Zealand has traditionally had an unarmed police force and that, generally, it has as a country maintained an excellent international reputation for respecting the rights of vulnerable individuals.

As readers may know, New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, compliance with which is monitored by the United Nations Committee against Torture. When New Zealand’s compliance with the Convention was considered earlier this year, the Committee commented favourably on New Zealand’s establishment of the Group and its role in liaising with and providing opinions and papers on issues relating to the use of force by the police.

Group members

Unlike many advisory groups, the police elected to form the Group in Auckland rather than Wellington. Barrister Marie Dyhrberg QC is the Group’s convenor, and the NZ Police are represented by Superintendent Chris Scahill (National Manager of Response and Operations) and Inspector Jason Ross (Manager of Response). Other Group members are Peter Hosking (Barrister, former Human Rights Commissioner and current Chairperson of the Human Rights Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand), Moira Macnab (Barrister and medico-legal specialist), Rebecca Emery (Deputy Director, Amnesty International NZ) and Antony O’Brien (Associate Editor of the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences).

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