MORE than 220 children, some as young as 13, have been capsicum sprayed or foamed by police in Queensland over the past three years even though official police policy all but bans the practice.
Documents released by the Queensland Police Service under Right to Information laws show one in 13 people capsicum sprayed by police since 2008 was younger than 18.
More than 100 children were capsicum sprayed or foamed in 2008, the documents show, and young people living in Logan or Mount Isa are the most likely to be sprayed by police.
In October last year, a 13-year-old was capsicum sprayed after he allegedly punched an officer in the face at Charters Towers in north Queensland.
In another case in January 2008, two 15-year-old girls and two 16-year-old boys were sprayed during an Australia Day brawl on the Gold Coast.
The QPS bible the Operations Procedures Manual advises police against using capsicum spray on juveniles except in special circumstances.
"Sometimes the only solution is use of force such as capsicum spray to protect both the juvenile concerned and the entire community," Mr Leavers said.
Young people are among the fastest-growing group of offenders in Queensland, with 1204 boys aged 10 to 14 charged with violent crimes in 2009-10, up 12 per cent on the previous year.
But critics, including Commissioner for Children and Young People and Child Guardian Elizabeth Fraser, said the number of capsicum spray deployments against juveniles was concerning. She said it should occur only in exceptional circumstances.
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Terry O'Gorman said police were using spray on juveniles too readily.
"The police commissioner's general instruction contains in effect a prohibition on things like capsicum spray against juveniles except for serious or emergency situations," he said. "It's hard to see how that number squares up with that prohibition."
Police Minister Neil Roberts defended the use of capsicum spray, saying it was necessary to resolve volatile and dangerous situations.
He said police were trained to use the minimum amount of force necessary to resolve a potentially inflammatory situation.
"When faced with these situations, police officers have to make split-second judgments and the age of an individual is not always immediately apparent in such circumstances," Mr Roberts said.
A Crime and Misconduct Commission spokeswoman said it had no evidence of widespread misuse of capsicum spray by police on people aged under 18.
A police spokesman said all officers equipped with capsicum spray had been trained by a qualified instructor, and were advised not to deploy the spray within 60cm of an offender's face.