Gardaí used pepper spray 3,500 times in three years


GARDAÍ HAVE used pepper spray on almost 3,500 occasions since the so-called “less than lethal” weapon was rolled out across the force almost three years ago.

During 2010 – in its first full year of being used by the whole force, including uniformed and otherwise unarmed gardaí – the spray was used on 1,195 occasions.

In the following year there was an increase and it was used 1,421 times.

The spray had been used 790 times this year, to the end of the first week in August, according to the figures which have been confirmed by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Under current protocol, the Garda reports any incident in which the spray is used, to the commission.

However, unlike incidents in which firearms are discharged by gardaí, the system around the reporting of pepper spray incidents to the commission is a protocol rather than a legal requirement.

It means that some incidents in which the spray was used may not have come to the attention of the commission.

Despite the fact that the spray has been used several times a day on average, and its impact in overpowering the senses of those targeted, The Irish Times understands its use has not resulted in a large number of complaints to the commission from members of the public.

The roll-out of the spray across the force was first recommended by the Garda Inspectorate in 2006.

While it was first used by some specialist units, including the Emergency Response Unit which already had access to an array of weapons including firearms, and the Public Order Unit, the roll-out to unarmed uniformed gardaí was at first resisted.

In 2007, former Garda commissioner Noel Conroy ruled out arming uniformed members with the spray, saying he believed that such a move may be seen by some sections of the community as the arming of gardaí.

He believed it might cause more aggression to be directed at some gardaí from the public and damage the Garda’s relationship with the community.

However, when the number of attacks on gardaí doubled to 655 in the three years to 2008 it was decided to review the issue of pepper spray.

The decision to provide it to all Garda members was approved by the then Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy and the government.

The move was welcomed at the time by the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors who believed that the increased level of violence against their members warranted a response in the shape of the spray, as well as stab-proof vests.

A group of 300 was trained in their use in late 2009, followed by the full roll-out of the weapons the following year.

The spray can be used to incapacitate a person during a public order incident or in any other case where gardaí deem people to be a threat to the safety of a Garda or a member of the public.

While the spray overpowers the senses, and can be very painful when contact is made with the eyes, those targeted generally make a full recovery within minutes.

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