Mental health patients disproportionately targeted by tasers
A new study from the University of Auckland has shown a clear disparity in the use of tasers against mental health
The paper, published recently in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, found tasers were more than twice as
likely (27 percent) to be discharged at mental health emergencies than at criminal arrests (10 percent).
Anthony O’Brien, senior lecturer in Nursing at The University of Auckland and the study author, says the study is the
first of its kind worldwide.
“No other research has looked specifically at the use of tasers in mental health emergencies as opposed to criminal
cases, and some of the results are very worrying,” says Mr O’Brien.
An unexpected finding is that police have used tasers in mental health facilities in laser painting mode. This is one
step away from being discharged which would lead to people feeling less rather than more safe in those facilities.
“I was shocked to find that tasers have been used at mental health inpatient units. I would be extremely alarmed if we
were moving the way of the United States where hospital staff have been given tasers. That is completely contrary to New
Zealand policy which is aimed at improving in-patient services,” he says.
The study also found Maori and Pacific people were far more likely to be tasered than Europeans, and suggested that
police are more likely to manage incidents involving Maori and Pacific people as a criminal case rather than a mental
Mr O’Brien would like to see this issue monitored further as the use of tasers becomes more commonplace.
“There’s huge public interest in the use of tasers, and we would urge the government and police to take note of who is
being subject to the use of tasers,” says Mr O’Brien. “It’s a matter of some urgency that the existing memorandum of
understanding between the police and the mental health services is reviewed to monitor the use of tasers,” he says.