23 December 2014

South Yorkshire Police Firearms and Ammunition Losses (Follow Up)

Our Reference:
2014-008

Public Authority:
South Yorkshire Police.

Background Information:
In a previous request we asked South Yorkshire Police to provide information about the number of firearms, ammunition rounds and CS canisters that had been lost by its officers since 1st January 2010. We also sought information about the number of times South Yorkshire Police officers had accidentally or negligently discharged firearms in public places since 1st January 2010.

South Yorkshire Police responded that its officers had lost no firearms or rounds of ammunition; had lost 12 CS canisters and had accidentally/negligently discharged a firearm in a public place once since 1st January 2010.

We were particularly interested in the fact that South Yorkshire Police officers had lost 12 CS canisters, when a previous response by Northumbria Police, which has 1,000 more officers than South Yorkshire Police, indicated that its officers had lost no CS canisters over the same timescale. In order to assess the significance of this discrepancy, we decided to seek further information about the circumstances surrounding each South Yorkshire Police CS canister loss. We also asked for further information about the circumstances surrounding the accidental/negligent discharge of the South Yorkshire Police firearm.

The request was placed on 1st December 2014 and the public authority provided a response on 22nd December 2014, which was well within the 20 working day statutory time limit. On this occasion the public authority disclosed the requested information in part.

Request by FOI By Proxy (sent 1st December 2014):
Dear South Yorkshire Police,

I am making this request under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

South Yorkshire Police recently disclosed the following information to me in its response to my request for information, ref. no. 20141009:
  • Between 2010 and the present date there have been 12 CS (or other incapacitant spray) canisters lost or stolen, whilst under the control or ownership of South Yorkshire Police.
  • Between 2010 and the present date there has been one occasion where South Yorkshire Police officers have accidentally or negligently discharged a firearm in a public place.
Please can you now provide the following information:

1. Information held in relation to the accidental/negligent discharge of the firearm mentioned above. In particular, I am seeking information about the time. location and circumstances of this incident (e.g. at the time the firearm was discharged, what duty was the officer undertaking, where and when?). Additionally, please tell me if the officer in question was subject to any form of disciplinary action.

2. Information held in relation to the lost or stolen CS (or other incapacitant spray) canisters mentioned above. In particular, I am seeking information about the time, location and circumstances of these losses or thefts (e.g. at the time these canisters were lost or stolen, what duties were the officers undertaking, where and when?). Additionally, please tell me if the officers in question were subject to any form of disciplinary action.

Please provide your response in electronic format to the return email address associated with this request.

Many thanks for your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy

Acknowledgement by South Yorkshire Police (received 2nd December 2014):
South Yorkshire Police acknowledged our request on 2nd December 2014.
 
Response by South Yorkshire Police (received 22nd December 2014):
South Yorkshire Police provided the following information in response to each point of our request:

1. Information held in relation to the accidental/negligent discharge of the firearm mentioned above.
  • South Yorkshire Police refused to disclose this information, citing the exemption under section 17 of the Act. 
  • In their refusal notice, South Yorkshire Police states: "Due to the recent date of the incident, the disclosure of this information in the public domain could be used by those individuals with criminal intent to build up a picture of what intelligence is held in specific areas, and how the police deployments respond to such incidents. Disclosing the information could lead to more crimes being committed, which would impact on police resources in tacking crime and potentially stretch the resources of the force in a specific area."
  • South Yorkshire Police confirm that the officer responsible for the accidental/negligent discharge of the firearm "was offered words of advice".
2. Information held in relation to the lost or stolen CS (or other incapacitant spray) canisters mentioned above.
  • South Yorkshire Police began by revising the CS canister loss figures given in response to our previous request. The new figures are now as follows: 2010 = 0; 2011 = 1; 2012 = 2; 2013 = 2; 2014 = 1.
  • South Yorkshire Police provided a PDF document outlining the brief circumstances surrounding each CS canister loss.
  • South Yorkshire Police omitted to state whether or not any of the officers in charge of the CS canisters at the time of loss had faced any disciplinary action. However, on this occasion, we will not be pursuing that point any further.
Supporting Material:
Material supporting this request can be viewed here.

Analysis:
South Yorkshire Police's response is very interesting, as it seems to indicate a fairly casual approach to the safe and efficient management of CS canisters.

Information provided by South Yorkshire Police confirms that of the 6 CS canisters now outstanding, 5 of those were lost internally within police premises. Of those 5 internal losses, 3 were as a result of locker mix ups. Given that information, it would appear that South Yorkshire Police allows officers to store CS canisters in their own personal lockers with very few safeguards.

This new information, when compared to the case of Northumbria Police mentioned earlier, does indeed suggest that South Yorkshire Police has issues when it comes to accounting for CS canisters.

CS canisters are considered as prohibited weapons in accordance with section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968. CS is a peripheral sensory irritant, which causes a burning sensation on the subject's face and around their eyes.

According to ACPO's "Guidance on the Use of Incapacitant Sprays": "Police officers, whilst acting in their capacity as such, are exempt from the requirements of the legislation and do not need any additional authority to possess them. Officers can therefore have lawful possession of the spray whilst off duty provided that this is necessary for the purposes of police duty."

The same policy document goes on to explain that Chief Constables will wish to establish policy and systems for the safe storage and administration of incapacitant sprays, which should include an audit trail to enable the location and identification of devices. It would appear that South Yorkshire Police's CS canister audit trail doesn't work as effectively as it should.

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