‘Worrying’ rise in police use of force on Sussex children

Sussex Police is using a rising number of force tactics – including police dogs – on children, figures reveal.

By Patrick Jack, Data Reporter

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 Sussex Police used force tactics on under-18s on 2,682 occasions in 2020-21.

Figures have revealed that police are using a rising number of force tactics on children in Sussex. Picture: RADAR.

This was up from 2,365 the year before, and 2,351 in 2018-19 – the first year such figures were recorded at police force level.

Last year, Sussex officers handcuffed children 1,161 times, physically restrained them on the ground on 136 occasions and used 91 limb or body restraints.

Officers also recorded 12 instances of firearms being used, though it is not known whether they were fired or aimed, and 10 occasions when dogs were used.

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 82 uses logged by Sussex Police.

However, none of these 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.