Reports of children pepper-sprayed
Police have defended pepper-spraying eight children in a five-year period, saying such cases are "very, very rare" but necessary.
Figures released under the Official Information Act revealed police used pepper spray 7358 times from July 2010 to the end of 2014, including on a six-year-old who was sprayed in June after threatening to kill his mother with a steak knife.
Explaining police actions, Superintendent Chris Scahill said use of force, including pepper spray, is "something we approach extremely carefully", and is only ever used when communication fails.
"Police practice, policy and procedure is to always use the absolute least amount of force possible to resolve the situation," he said in a statement released today.
"But ultimately, it's the person's behaviour, and the risk they pose to themselves or others that determines how we respond, regardless of their age, gender or any other criteria.
Of the eight cases, seven involved threatening or violent behaviour and in several cases the child was drunk, holding a weapon or suffering a mental health episode.
The eighth case was an accident involving a child who inadvertently walked through spray.
The situation involving the six-year-old boy was high risk and the mother feared for her life, Supt Scahill said.
"Police attempted to communicate with him several times and warned that he would be sprayed if he did hot put down the knife," said the officer, who explained spray was the "safest and lowest risk tactical option to prevent the boy from hurting himself or others".
"When he did not put the knife down, he was sprayed and the incident was safely resolved without injury."
He said the pepper-spraying of children under 12 was "very, very rare", making up just 0.1 percent of all events over the five-year period.