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Campaigners condemn ‘worrying’ rise in police use of force against minors

Police use of force against children and teenagers has risen by 8% in a year, according to Home Office figures, including one instance where a TASER weapon was used on a child under 11 .

Campaigners have called for a review into police use of TASER weapons, firearms and restraint tactics against minors.

Home Office figures show police forces across England and Wales used force tactics on under-18s 77,000 times last year, including 551 occasions when the tactics were used on children under 11.

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It is an 8% rise from the year before, a trend which The Howard League described as “worrying”.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said officers must protect people of all ages from harming themselves or others, often in fast-moving scenarios.

In the year to March 2021, police forces across England and Wales aimed firearms at minors 228 times, including three instances where they were aimed at under-11s. There were no recorded instances of guns being fired at under-18s.

Officers restrained or handcuffed minors 50,000 times and used police dogs against them 250 times.

The total number of restraint or force tactics used on under-18s was up 8% from 72,000 a year before, and the most since national comparable records began in 2017-18.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A steep rise in the police use of force against children is a worrying trend, particularly when the levels of children arrested remain thankfully low.

“Police forces across England and Wales should review what might be behind this rise and work to reduce the number of incidents involving children.”

Officers across the two nations drew TASER devices against children 2,500 times and discharged them 123 times, including once at a child under 11.

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TASER devices are designed to temporarily incapacitate someone with an electric shock.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England wants their use on children banned, or permitted in only the rarest situations.

Louise King, director of the CRA, said that even when not fired, a TASER weapon is still “frightening and traumatic” to be threatened with.

She added that police argue the conducted energy weapons help protect the public and police officers, but that “shouldn’t come at the cost of children’s safety and human rights”.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said a TASER weapon is only discharged in 10% of uses, and each one must be fully recorded, proportionate and justified.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, NPCC lead for self-defence and restraint, said officers must protect people of all ages from harming themselves or others, often in fast-moving violent scenarios.

He added: “Officers have thousands of interactions with the public every day and force is not used in the vast majority of those.

“Officers receive guidance and training with the starting point being that they should attempt to resolve confrontations with the public without the need to use force.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said a change in the number of incidents is likely a consequence of improved recording methods and should not be seen as a worrying increase in the use of force.

Two police forces - Warwickshire and West Mercia - did not record the age of anyone subjected to use of force tactics.