Go-ahead for all police to carry CS spray

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The Independent Online
Police patrol officers throughout England and Wales are to be allowed to carry CS sprays after a six-month trial of the incapacitant, which has been deemed a success.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce the decision next week, and officers from all 43 police forces are likely to be have the spray by the New Year. Hand-held CS canisters were issued to 3,800 officers in 16 forces at the beginning of March. Police chiefs hoped they would help to stem the rise in the number of officers injured. The spray can reduce someone to a coughing, spluttering wreck within seconds.

The Home Office agreed to be guided by the police chiefs and has approved the use of the device after chief constables and police officers said they were impressed by it. A police source said: "On the whole we are delighted with the results. The spray has been far more effective than we could have hoped."

Liberty, the civil rights group, attacked the decision, arguing that there were still severe problems with the training of officers in the use of the CS spray, as well as unanswered questions aboutside-effects.

The group said that about 20 people were taking action against the police for alleged abuse of the device.

In the first three months, CS gas was sprayed on 366 occasions. It was drawn but not used a further 268 times. The deterrent or "threat" value of the spray was an unexpected bonus, the police said.

At least two people needed hospital treatment after being sprayed but the police said they have no reports of long-term medical harm. CS spray takes immediate effect and causes streaming eyes and nose, eyelids spasm, breathing difficulties, and in some cases blistering of the skin.

The use of the incapacitant reduced the number of assaults during the first half of the trial by 6.8 per cent and time lost by 66 per cent. An unarmed control group, who were compared to the officers with CS, recorded a drop in attacks of 14 per cent and time lost was down by 43 per cent. The result, while confusing, may suggest the new weapons has most effect against the more serious and thus time-consuming incidents.

The Association of Chief Police Officers self-defence sub-committee will meet to finalise plans in the next few days. A spokesman said: "Feedback from officers on the ground has been extremely positive."

A Home Office source added: "It's up to police what they want. If they are happy then so are we."

The Home Secretary gave the police permission to carry out trials of CS spray after rejecting experimentation with pepper sprays on the grounds of potential health dangers.

The trials are currently taking place in the Metropolitan Police, and the West Midlands, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Dorset, Durham, Dyfed-Powys, Kent, Leicestershire, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, West Mercia, and West Yorkshire forces.

Once they have been given the official go-ahead, officers from other forces will be trained and issued with the French-made spray and it is expectedeventually to become standard issue for all front-line officers. However chief constables in some rural forces are yet to be convinced that the sprays are necessary.

Trials were due to take place last year but were halted after a Metropolitan Police instructor suffered burns to his eyes and had to have them covered for five days.

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