Letter: CS spray works

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The Independent Culture
Sir: If experience in my force is anything to go by, there is no evidence that CS spray is being used by middle-aged police officers to compensate for any concern they might have about their ability to handle a situation ("Police using CS spray to make `easy' arrests", 12 August).

I routinely monitor the use of CS spray, and can tell you that from 1 November last year - the date when all front-line officers here were first equipped with CS spray - until the end of May this year, CS spray was used in 438 cases. In only 69 of those cases was the officer over the age of 40. In the same period, incidentally, my colleagues arrested about 75,000 people.

On each occasion when a spray is used, the officer has to explain its deployment and he or she is ultimately answerable to the courts for this use of force. Fortunately, unlike any other alternative defensive instrument, use of the spray has very short-term effects for the overwhelming majority of people.

The article did not tell us how many of the 254 allegations of misuse of the spray nationally in a year the Police Complaints Authority treated as substantiated, nor is there any indication of the success of any civil action. In this force we have 10 such actions against us which remain to be resolved. What we do know is that, set against the many thousands of arrests each year, the number is very small indeed.

You may like to know that during the last financial year, 1,360 of my officers were assaulted, but the level of injury, thankfully, is declining. I attribute this to the availability of CS spray. I welcome the interest shown by the chairman of the Police Complaints Authority in any case where there are allegations of police using too much force. What is difficult to swallow are broad generalisations, on scant evidence.

EDWARD CREW

Chief Constable, West Midlands Police

Birmingham

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