Go-ahead for CS spray splits police chiefs

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The Independent Online
Two chief constables are refusing to arm their officers with CS spray because of the possible side-effects despite the announcement yesterday that forces throughout England and Wales have been given the go-ahead to carry the incapacitant.

The decision by police in Surrey and Hertfordshire not to introduce the French-made canisters will be seized upon by civil rights groups who have been campaigning for more tests to be carried out on CS.

But despite the reservations police chiefs in England and Wales yesterday declared a six-month trial involving 3,800 officers in 16 forces a success. Tests showed that many officers were now using the spray rather than batons. Most of the 43 forces in England and Wales are expected to start large-scale training and equipping staff with the spray by the end of the year, although several have yet to make up their minds.

During the first five months of the trials the canisters of CS spray, which temporarily disables assailants by causing streaming eyes and noses, eyelid spasms and breathing difficulties, were used 582 times. In about 10 per cent of the cases the spray had little or no effect. In a further 350 instances CS was drawn but not used, suggesting it is a powerful deterrent. Five people needed hospital treatment but no one suffered long- term damage. Surveys found strong support for CS among police and the public.

The decision to allow the nationwide use of CS, which was endorsed yesterday by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was called into question by at least two police forces. Both Surrey and Hertfordshire have expressed concern about the possible effects on officers and innocent bystanders, as well as contamination of clothing and vehicles which may affect people several hours after use.

Peter Sharpe, Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Police, said: "I'm keen to ensure that my officers are safe when they use it. There have been reports of officers receiving reddening and burning of the face after using the spray."

Surrey police are particularly worried about the propellant used in the spray, which they believe is harmful. They are currently trying to develop an alternative CS spray.

Piara Powar, of the Newham Monitoring Project in east London, attacked yesterday's decision and called for the spray to be banned. "Officers have consistently failed to follow their own guidelines on the use of the spray," he said.

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