Rise in use of force tactics by police on thousands of children in Thames Valley area

Figures show officers handcuffed children 943 times, physically restrained them on the ground,

Friday, 14th January 2022, 12:22 pm

Thames Valley Police used force tactics – including police dogs – thousands of times on children last year, figures reveal.

The Howard League said police forces across England and Wales should reduce the "worrying" rise in use of force incidents involving children.

Home Office statistics show Thames Valley Police used force tactics on under-18s on 2,639 occasions in 2020-21 – with 15 involving children under 11.

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The Howard League said police forces across England and Wales should reduce the "worrying" rise in use of force incidents involving children

This was down from 2,789 the year before, and 2,850 in 2018-19 – the first year such figures were recorded at police force level.

Last year, Thames Valley officers handcuffed children 943 times, physically restrained them on the ground on 510 occasions and used 90 limb or body restraints.

Officers also recorded four instances of firearms being aimed and three occasions when dogs were used – two of which resulted in dog bites being inflicted.

Across England and Wales, 77,000 use of force tactics on children were recorded in 2020-21 – including 551 on under-11s.

The number of 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 or fired TASER devices 2,600 times on children in 2020-21 – with 48 uses logged by Thames Valley Police.

Of these, two saw the device discharged.

TASER weapons are designed to temporarily incapacitate someone with an electric shock – either fired at someone from a distance or held against their body to stun them.

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 gun 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.