Hertfordshire Police used Tasers on children on dozens of occasions last year

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England says the recorded increase in use of Tasers against children by police across England and Wales is “alarming”

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 6:28 am

Police in Hertfordshire recorded using Tasers on children on dozens of occasions last year, figures reveal.

Officers reported firing the electrical weapons in four of those cases.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England says the recorded increase in use of Tasers against children by police forces across England and Wales is “alarming”.

The photo has been used for illustration purposes

The children’s human rights charity says “being threatened” with a Taser can be extremely frightening for a child even if the weapon is not fired, and has called for a ban on their use on young people.

Home Office figures show Hertfordshire Constabulary drew Tasers on children aged under 18 on 48 occasions in 2019-20, up from 30 the previous year.

The figure counts the number of times each officer involved in an incident used the device rather than the number of separate incidents or how many children were involved. The age recorded is that perceived by the officer.

Officers fired a Taser four times, although none of those involved under-11s.

When fired, Tasers are designed to temporarily incapacitate someone by giving them an electric shock. A device can be fired at someone from a distance or held against their body to stun them.

A Hertfordshire Constabulary spokesperson said: “We remain committed to using appropriate force only when necessary.

"Our officers do, on occasion, need to deal with individuals who threaten violence to police, members of the public or themselves.

“In those situations, we need the ability to bring these incidents to a quick and safe conclusion and taser is one of a number of ways that our officers can achieve this.”

Across the 43 police forces in England and Wales, Tasers were used on children on 2,818 occasions in 2019-20, up from 1,700 the previous year.

They were fired in 134 cases, none of which involved children under 11.

Louise King, director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that monitors the UK's child rights obligations has been very clear that Tasers should be prohibited on children, and yet their use continues to increase at an alarming rate year on year.

“Even if a Taser is not actually fired, being threatened with one is still extremely frightening for children.”

The figures also show Hertfordshire Constabulary reported using a spit and bite guard on children on six occasions last year, all of whom were aged 11 to 17.­­

In 2018-19, the police force recorded 13 uses of the fabric hoods, which are used to protect an officer or someone else from spitting or biting.

They were used on children 548 times across England and Wales last year, up from 312 a year earlier.

This included seven cases involving under-11s.

Ms King said there has been no rigorous assessment of the safety of using spit hoods and Tasers on children, despite evidence they can cause “serious harm and trauma”.

“We want the use of Tasers and spit hoods on children to be banned,” she added.

“At the very least, the Government must urgently publish clear guidance and training for the police to ensure the use of these devices on under-18s is avoided unless absolutely necessary.”

Overall, officers at Hertfordshire Police recorded using some form of force on children on 1,636 occasions last year – 60% of those were for restraint, which can include handcuffing, restraining someone on the ground, or using specialist equipment to reduce the movement of someone’s arms and legs.

Other use of force can include using firearms, equipment such as batons, shields and irritant spray, and dogs.

Matt Twist, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for self-defence and restraint, said force is “rarely used in the vast majority” of officers’ interactions with the public.

He added: “When it is necessary to use force – for example, when someone poses an immediate danger to others or themselves – it is used proportionately and lawfully.

“Most commonly, officers only use force to protect themselves from attack, which has been an increasing concern for chiefs in the last year as assaults against officers have increased.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our brave police put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public – it is vital they have the equipment and tactics they need to reduce crime and stay safe on the job.”