Capsicum spray use on children ‘disturbing’

A civil liberties group has called on police to avoid resorting to capsicum spray when confronting a potentially violent situation, especially when involving children.

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Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe has defended the practice of using capsicum foam after two Victorian children within a week were involved in situations where police say the spray was needed.

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A 13-year-old girl was sprayed at a McDonald’s restaurant in southeast Melbourne on Monday night, six days after a 12-year-old boy was sprayed in central Victoria.

But the President of the Victorian Council Civil Liberties Michael Pearce says the recent incidents are disturbing and disconcerting.

“We need to know all the facts and circumstances before we can make a full and final judgement but it’s difficult to avoid a conclusion that grown police officers ought to be able to restrain 12 and 13-year-old children without the use if unnecessary force and certainly without resorting to capsicum spray,” he told SBS.

Deputy Commissioner Walshe said today that more members were using capsicum spray because the number of weapons carried by young people continued to grow.

But Mr Pearce said there wasn’t empirical evidence showing that more young people were carrying weapons in Australia.

“Before we accept that assumption we need to see the empirical evidence about it,” he told SBS.

“But it doesn’t necessarily change the position that it’s really incumbent on police that, when confronted with a violent of potentially violent situation — especially when children are involved — they do all things they can to defuse the situation without resorting to violence, on their own part, and certainly without resorting to weapons”.

Both children were in highly agitated states and brandishing weapons during the incidents, police said.

“I would say there’s probably been a rise in the use of spray,” Mr Walshe told reporters.

“We have detected people as young as 10 years of age carrying weapons.

“We’ve got young people who are distressed … they’re not compliant when they’re asked to be compliant with regard to weapons and leaving our members in a situation that they have to make a judgment about what they do.”

Mr Walshe defended police tactical response training, saying it was now focused on understanding vulnerable people and groups, particularly those with mental health issues.

“Unfortunately in both these situations that training … was not able to be (the) success we would have liked to have seen.”