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Helsinki cops increasingly use pepper spray, Police Board data shows

The lachrymatory agent has been used more times by police in Finland this year compared to any year over the last decade.

Kuvassa poliisi kaasuttaa mielenosoittajia Helsingissä.
Helsinki police officers sprayed Image: Elokapina

The Helsinki police department have used various forms of spray, gas or canisters 64 times so far this year, according to National Police Board statistics.

Following an incident on 3 October, police came under intense scrutiny for using pepper spray to disperse Extinction Rebellion demonstrators who blocked a city thoroughfare as part of a climate protest. A total of 14 criminal reports have been filed over police conduct during the demonstration.

Earlier this week the Prosecutor General's office announced that it was opening a preliminary probe into the matter.

In a statement to the National Police Board, the Helsinki department said officers were justified in using pepper spray because the demonstrators were blocking a busy road and needed to be removed. The Police Board released a report last week following an internal probe into the case and said that police acted appropriately during the early October incident.

Out of the Helsinki police department's methods of non-lethal means, pepper spray was used the most, according to Chief Commissioner Jere Roimu. During 2019 pepper spray was used a total of 44 times by officers, the previous year it was 60 times, the highest number during the 2010s which means that the department has used more pepper spray so far this year than in past years.

Last week, Yle News' podcast All Points North spoke with an Extinction Rebellion protester who was pepper sprayed.

Story continues after audio.

Audio: Yle

The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsicum, a substance found in chili peppers, and being sprayed in the face causes a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat, but can also cause temporary breathing and vision problems.

Roimu said that while the use of pepper spray increased, the use of another non-lethal tool, electric shock tasers, decreased. He said the use of tasers were used 100 times in 2018 and 2019, but this year the shock devices have so far been used 52 times.

"The decision about which means of force to use depends on where the incident takes place and how dangerous the situation is, as well as what resources we have," Roimu explained.

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