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Pepper spray used for ‘tactical advantage’

Pepper spray is issued to police officers in Bermuda to give them a “tactical advantage in a violent encounter”, according to a policy document obtained by The Royal Gazette.

The Bermuda Police Service shared with this newspaper a redacted version of an internal memo on Captor incapacitant spray in response to a public access to information request.

The document shows that pepper spray is available for issue to all officers in the BPS who have successfully completed a training course on its use and “may be appropriate” against:

• Those offering a level of violence which cannot be appropriately dealt with by lower levels of force; and

• Violent offenders, where failure to induce “immediate” capacitation would increase the risks to all present.

The memo states: “A graduated and appropriate level of force in response to varying levels of aggression and violence may include the use of Captor. The decision to use Captor will be dependent on an officer's assessment of the situation.

“This will include their own ability to deal with the incident and the threat posed by the subject(s).

“It is essential that an officer's training and skills permits the exercise of maximum self-control and control over the situation, thus permitting the application of only that level of force appropriate to the situation.

“It must be remembered that the discharge of an incapacitant spray is a use of force.”

Police have been criticised after officers wearing riot helmets used pepper spray on a crowd of protesters blocking MPs from entering the House of Assembly on December 2. The demonstrators' aim was to prevent debate of legislation concerning the $250 million redevelopment of the airport.

Twenty-six people have made complaints about the police's behaviour, which will be investigated by the independent Police Complaints Authority, while 14 officers were allegedly assaulted by members of the crowd.

Michael DeSilva, Commissioner of Police, said after the protest that officers warned protesters not to obstruct the entrance to Sessions House and then “initiated positive action to open a path to the House” once it was announced the House would sit at 1pm.

“They [police] approached the protesters who were blocking access, warned them they were committing offences and instructed them to desist,” he said. “Immediately, the crowd surged and some of the protesters assaulted the officers.”

He later told this newspaper: “As a result, a second group of officers was deployed to arrest those who continued to block the gates.”

Mr DeSilva said it was incorrect, as has previously been reported by this newspaper, that the second group of officers was deployed as a Police Support Unit (PSU).

“They were not deployed as a Police Support Unit and they did not carry shields,” said the commissioner. “Rather, they were wearing protective helmets as a precaution, based on the aggressive behaviour of some members of the crowd.

“This group of officers was also assaulted. Some officers deployed incapacitant spray — Captor — in a proportionate response to disperse the crowd and to create a safe separation.”

The memo on Captor gives instructions on its use, advising officers: “The use of any form of force must be judged in relation to the level of resistance or violence to which an officer is subjected.

“Varying levels of aggression and violence require various responses from the police, which must be strictly proportionate, ensuring that the police use of force is always necessary and reasonable in the circumstances.”

“The ultimate responsibility for using Captor rests with the individual officer, who is answerable ultimately to the law in the courts.”

A section on training and use was redacted before release, but it is understood that officers are advised to spray subjects directly in the face, especially in the eyes, and spraying should stop when a subject is compliant or if the spray is having no effect and greater force is needed.

The memo tells officers they have a duty of care to anyone affected by being sprayed and that it is of the “utmost importance” to monitor those subjects. Other parts of the policy document redacted by the BPS include the introduction and sections on storage and administration and aftercare of subjects who have been sprayed.

Information officer Inspector David Geraghty said disclosing those portions would likely reveal methods for dealing with “breaches or evasions of the law” and could prejudice the effectiveness of those methods.

The Captor spray policy was approved by George Jackson, then Commissioner of Police, in March 2006. Randy Horton, who was then Minister of Home Affairs and is now Speaker of the House, authorised its use by police officers.

Jeff Baron, now Minister of National Security, was one of the officers in charge of training police on its use.

Police and protesters clash outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published December 23, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated December 23, 2016 at 1:56 am)

Pepper spray used for ‘tactical advantage’

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