Force without reason?

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The Independent Online
Police officers may use no more force than "is reasonable in the circumstances" when preventing a crime or making a lawful arrest - as set out in the Criminal Law Act 1967.

When it comes to their own defence, they have the same common law protections as anyone else - again to use force that is reasonable in the circumstances.

Ninety-eight per cent of arrests take place without the use of any force. However the police have a variety of methods available to them:

The use of words, reasoning and the placing of a hand on someone's arm.

The use of gestures - for example, pulling out a baton as a threat of force may be sufficient to deter someone.

The use of rigid handcuffs. They can now be secured far more rapidly than the old-style models and are already being used nationally. However the Police Complaints Authority is examining complaints that they have led to a spate of broken and bruised wrists.

The use of a baton. The police now have the choice of a new selection of batons that are rapidly replacing the traditional wooden truncheon. Chief constables can choose from: the US polycarbonate side- handled batons, which spring from 13.5in to 2ft long at a flick of the wrist; a straight metal baton that extends from 7in to 21in; and a rage of long-handled batons.

The use of firearms. There are a growing number of armed response units, which comprise a few highly trained officers. The most commonly carried guns are the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver and the Hecker and Koch MP5 sub-machine carbines, which are used for VIP protection and special operations. They are are kept locked in a box in armed response vehicles. Officers in London and in other areas considered dangerous openly carry handguns. However the number of officers authorised to carry firearms has dropped from 10,000 to 6,000 over the past decade.

The use of CS spray to immobilise suspects is being considered. Trials due to start in 18 police forces in England and Wales were postponed after an instructor's eyes were burnt by the spray during initial tests. The hand-held sprays, which cause watering eyes, sneezing and coughing, would be worn by patrol officers on their belts.

The use of pepper sprays are also under consideration, but trials have been delayed pending further research into their effects. Department of Health officials have raised questions about the effect of the spray on asthma sufferers and pregnant women. There is also concern that the natural chemicals in the spray may permanently damage nerve endings.