Crime Files Network

Police criticised over use

of capsicum spray on children

  • Amelia Harris
  • From: Herald Sun
  • March 07, 2011 12:00AM

Police have vigorously defended the use of capsicum spray. Source: HWT Image Library

MORE than 1000 children, some as young as nine, have been capsicum sprayed or foamed by police in Victoria in the past six years.

One child was up a tree when he was doused, and two other boys were sprayed while fighting each other after trying to break into a vending machine.

Critics, including Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary, said the figures were shocking.

The Herald Sun has obtained through a Freedom of Information request case files detailing the use of capsicum spray and foam on children since 2005.

The documents reveal:

MORE than 20 children under the age of 13 were sprayed, even though they were not armed.

TWENTY-ONE girls were sprayed last year and 15 children aged 14 and under.

BOYS represented 83 per cent or 851 of 1024 minors sprayed in the past six years.

POLICE sprayed 145 people under 18 – almost three a week – last year, the youngest of whom was 12.

Mr Geary said use of the spray/foam on more than 1000 children in six years was “an awful lot of extreme circumstances”.

“I would hope that spraying kids would be the incredible exception rather than the rule,” he said.

University of Melbourne professor of pharmacology Peter McIntyre, who researches the biology of capsicum-sensitive nerves, said no one, especially children, should be sprayed with capsicum.

“It’s another form of assault. It’s like punching someone in the face,” Prof McIntyre said.

Federation of Community Legal Centres CEO Hugh de Kretser said the practice against young unarmed children was “unlawful” and police should be disciplined.

“We’ve heard of instances where children as young as three-months-old have been exposed to capsicum spray through secondary exposure,” Mr de Kretser said.

He said police were using capsicum too hastily.

But police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe vigorously defended the practice, saying age was “not really all that relevant” in the dangers police faced.

He said use of capsicum had fallen from 223 children in 2005 to 145 last year.

“Our people don’t go around just willy-nilly spraying people or spraying young people,” he said. “If people are subject to spray, unfortunately it’s their behaviour that’s led to that.”

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