legal groups call for ban on capsicum spray

Friday, 17 September 2004 NSWCCL media release: 8/2004


In the wake of the NSW Police Association condemning the proposal to arm rail transit officers with capsicum spray or gel, Community Legal Centres and Civil Rights Groups call for an immediate halt to the proposal and an outright ban on police use of capsicum spray, warning that it is an unreasonable use of force and by no means a safe ‘ non lethal alternative’. Michael Costa’s mistaken belief that the gel is used by transit officers in Western Australia is indicative of decision making on the run. 

Vicki Sentas, Coordinator, UTS Community Law Centre said: 

"Experience from the United States and the United Kingdom, and medical and scientific reports show that police use of capsicum spray has caused death and serious injury. Capsicum Spray is a dangerous chemical weapon which should not be used by either Transit Officers or the Police." 

"Capsicum spray was introduced in NSW in 1998 and justified as a non lethal alternative to police shootings. However it is routinely used at demonstrations, against people with mental illness and those already restrained and in custody. The evidence suggests capsicum spray is often used against the most vulnerable in society." 

"We know that capsicum spray has been used at least 751 times by police in NSW between June 2003 and June 2004. However there are no publicly available reports on how and in what circumstances capsicum spray is used. Arming transit officers with capsicum gel or spray is a recipe for unaccountability and abuse of power."

Janet Loughman, Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Centre’s Children’s Legal Service said: 

"78% of young people report police never or rarely treat them with respect .This means that young people are particularly vulnerable to injury through the use of capsicum spray. We are very alarmed at the proposal to extend the use of capsicum spray or gel to transit officers since young people aged 11-20 years are the single largest group of ‘train travellers."

Cameron Murphy, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties said: 

"Rather than being an alternative to preventing injury and death, capsicum spray is proving to be a weapon of first choice, and one that increases those risks." 

"Arming untrained and inexperienced transit officers to the teeth is just a recipe for disaster." 

"If transit officers encounter a difficult situation they should be calling in police assistance – not attempting to resolve it themselves and there is no need for them to be armed with capsicum spray."

For more details contact: 

Cameron Murphy
NSW Council for Civil Liberties
0411 769 769 

Vicki Sentas 
UTS Community Law Centre 
0414 906 830