Police combat assault rise with powerful pepper spray

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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Police are stepping up firearms training and trialling stronger pepper spray after a near-trebling of serious violence cases against officers.

Today they will announce the extension of a trial of a powerful new pepper spray that delivers six times the wallop of its predecessor.

The move comes after firearms and Taser training for an extra 700 police was announced in February. The changes, to be introduced on July 1, will see about 5700 police get M4 rifle, Glock pistol and Taser training, and a further 2100 receive Glock training only.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said his organisation had lobbied for more firearm and Taser training as more officers were being assaulted.

Some of those working weekend and evening shifts did not have the training to bear arms, he said. That put them at risk when dealing with violent offenders aggravated by drugs or alcohol.

"We have got police being seriously assaulted increasingly. The situation has worsened - often serious assaults on officers are not even [reported publicly]."

He also welcomed the trials of stronger pepper sprays. "When police are facing assault from people on drugs or who have been drinking, pepper spray is a very good option for dealing with those people, who can be very resistant."

The announcement will extend the trials from the Bay of Plenty into the Eastern policing district covering Napier, Hastings and Gisborne.

The trials involve liquid and gel forms of the Sabre Red spray, which contains six times more capsicum than the one used at present, meaning it will work faster, and take longer to wear off.

Pepper spray had one of the lowest injury rates of all options used by police, national operational services manager Inspector Jason Ross said.

Just five minor and three moderate injuries resulted from the use of Sabre Red in the Bay of Plenty trial, according to figures released under the Official Information Act.

Statistics supplied to The Dominion Post by the Police Association show the number of serious assaults reported by police went up 172.5 per cent between 1998 and 2013.

The number of officers assaulted by armed offenders doubled in the same period.

Within the 2012-13 fiscal year, 28 officers were assaulted by someone carrying a firearm. Eleven officers were shot and killed or wounded between 2002 and 2010. 

The figures show a peak in serious assaults occurred in 2009-10, when there were 41 recorded incidents of assault on police by someone carrying a gun.

However, figures provided by police show the total number of assaults has declined every year since that spike, as police come up with better methods to keep officers safe.

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In the 2008-09 year, 2481 assaults on police were recorded, compared with 1763 in 2012-13.

Stab-resistant body armour was introduced in 2006, and police had since focused on improving tactical training, getting safety alarms, and greater access to Tasers and firearms, a spokesman for national headquarters said.

- The Dominion Post

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