Published Date: 03.08.2006
The Police Ombudsman has found that a police officer was justified when he used CS Spray during an incident in Antrim, but has also recommended that the PSNI should ensure that it keeps accurate records of all training undertaken by officers.
The incident happened shortly before midnight on December 30th 2004, when two police officers attended a house in Antrim after receiving a call from a householder. The man said his son was banging on the door of his home, and asked police to remove him.
Prior to arrival at the scene the police were aware that a non-molestation order had previously been in place in relation to the address, but there was none in force at the time.
On arrival they found a strongly-built male swearing as he kicked a door of the property and demanded to be let in. He had a can of beer in his hand and a bag containing more alcohol, and the officers said it was obvious he was drunk.
They told him to calm down and stop kicking the door. The officers stated that he responded by setting the bag on the ground and approaching them with his fists clenched.
The officers warned him about his behaviour, but when he continued to act in an aggressive manner one of the officers drew his CS Spray and issued a warning that he would use it. According to the officers, this warning was ignored and the man again approached them with his fists clenched.
He then spat at an officer, who responded by spraying CS Spray towards his chest from a distance of about 5 to 6 feet.
The officers reported that the man was initially confused and startled. He backed off and began to rub his eyes, at which point the officer who had sprayed him told him not to touch his face.
The officer then took him away from the area in which the spray had been used, and turned him around so that the CS particles would blow off him.
The man was then arrested and placed on the ground and handcuffed. Once he had begun to recover from the effects of the spray he was placed in a police car and taken to the custody suite at Antrim police station.
The man subsequently appeared in court and pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour.
In a statement to Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer who used CS Spray said he would previously have used his baton in such circumstances, but having been trained in the use of CS Spray, he considered that a better option. He stated that it would not have been appropriate to grapple with the man as this might have resulted in himself and his colleague being injured. In the event, the matter had been brought to a close as quickly as possible.
He also stated that he was mindful that attempts to calm the situation verbally had failed.
Having considered the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, concluded that the circumstances of the incident justified the officer's use of CS Spray.
She said he had been faced with a situation in which "immediate action was necessary to stop the threat posed to himself and his colleague."
"He had little option other than to stop the threat with the most appropriate form of force available to him," said Mrs O'Loan.
She did, however, express concern at "failures in the accuracy of record keeping" in relation to the officer's training records.
These records indicated that the officer was trained in the use of CS Spray in September 2004. However, before undertaking CS Spray training officers must, as a pre-requisite, have completed Conflict Resolution Skills training.
While these records indicated that the officer would have undertaken this module during his foundation training, which he completed in June 2003, there was no indication that he had successfully passed it.
Mrs O'Loan concluded: "It is recommended that accurate and comprehensive records be maintained of the modules undertaken by individual officers during foundation training and whether or not the modules were successfully completed.
"The use of CS Spray requires stringent regulation and there must be steps commensurate with this to ensure that it is only used by those officers who are properly trained and authorised."
Mrs O'Loan noted that her office had received full co-operation from the Police Service and stated that her investigation had not identified any misconduct issues against any PSNI officer.
Police Ombudsman Press Office
Tel. 028 9082 8604/028 9082 8746