Police in Bedfordshire recorded using Tasers on children on dozens of occasions last year, figures reveal.
Officers reported firing the electrical weapons in three of those cases.
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England says the recorded increase in use of Tasers against children by police forces across England and Wales is “alarming”.
The children’s human rights charity says “being threatened” with a Taser can be extremely frightening for a child even if the weapon is not fired, and has called for a ban on their use on young people.
Home Office figures show Bedfordshire Police drew Tasers on children aged under 18 on 28 occasions in 2019-20, up from 20 the previous year.
The figure counts the number of times each officer involved in an incident used the device rather than the number of separate incidents or how many children were involved. The age recorded is that perceived by the officer.
Officers fired a Taser three times, although none of those involved under-11s.
When fired, Tasers are designed to temporarily incapacitate someone by giving them an electric shock. A device can be fired at someone from a distance or held against their body to stun them.
Superintendent Ian Taylor said: “Bedfordshire Police has a low number of recorded uses of force compared to forces around the country. Our officers used force less than half as many times as one of our neighbouring forces over the past year.
“We do our utmost to protect children from harm and not criminalise them. However, our officers regularly face really dangerous situations on the streets of Bedfordshire, including young people in possession of knives or other weapons, often fuelled by county lines and other organised criminal gangs exploiting young people.
“Of all our officers’ interactions with children where the Home Office definition of force was used, only four per cent of these resulted in a Taser being drawn and just a handful of these actually saw the Taser being fired.
“However, we are mindful of the impact of any use of force on the public, especially children, and whenever we use any type of force our officers will have to consider the legal context, whether it is proportionate to do so and if there is alternative means available.
“We have arrangements in place for after care whenever a Taser is fired, while these incidents are automatically reviewed by our professional standards department.
“In the midst of a rise in assaults on police officers, it is vital that our people have the tools and equipment they need to protect themselves. All officers undergo rigorous training before they can go out on patrol with a taser, while we have an independently chaired panel of community members which meets on a regular basis to review our use of force.
“This includes statistics and data to scrutinise how our use of force is being applied, such as on those of different ages and backgrounds, as well reviewing physical examples of body worn and CCTV video.”
Louise King, director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that monitors the UK’s child rights obligations has been very clear that Tasers should be prohibited on children, and yet their use continues to increase at an alarming rate year on year.
“Even if a Taser is not actually fired, being threatened with one is still extremely frightening for children.”
The figures also show Bedfordshire Police reported using a spit and bite guard on children on five occasions last year, all of whom were aged 11 to 17.
In 2018-19, the police force recorded three uses of the fabric hoods, which are used to protect an officer or someone else from spitting or biting.
Ms King said there has been no rigorous assessment of the safety of using spit hoods and Tasers on children, despite evidence they can cause “serious harm and trauma”.
“We want the use of Tasers and spit hoods on children to be banned,” she added.
Overall, officers at Bedfordshire Police recorded using some form of force on children on 623 occasions last year – 59 per cent of those were for restraint, which can include handcuffing, restraining someone on the ground, or using specialist equipment to reduce the movement of someone’s arms and legs.
Other use of force can include using firearms, equipment such as batons, shields and irritant spray, and dogs.