ESSEX Police used force tactics – including police dogs – on children thousands of times last year, figures reveal.

Home Office statistics show Essex Police used force tactics on under-18s on 2,357 occasions in 2020-21 – with 21 involving children under 11.

This was down from 2,464 the year before, but up from 1,870 in 2018-19 – the first year figures were recorded at police force level.

Last year, Essex officers handcuffed children 967 times, physically restrained them on the ground on 394 occasions and used 197 limb or body restraints.

Officers also recorded two instances of firearms being used, although it is not known if they were actually fired or aimed, and 11 incidents when dogs were used.

Across England and Wales, 77,000 use of force tactics on children were recorded in 2020-21 – including 551 on under-11s.

The number of tactics used on under-18s was up eight per cent from 72,000 a year before, and the most since national comparable records began in 2017-18.

Nationally, officers drew or fired Taser stun guns on children 2,600 times in 2020-21 – with 77 uses logged by Essex Police.

Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A steep rise in the police use of force against children is a worrying trend, particularly when the levels of children arrested remain thankfully low.

“Police forces across England and Wales should review what might be behind this rise and work to reduce the number of incidents involving children.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said a change in the number of incidents is likely a consequence of improved recording methods and should not be seen as a worrying increase in the use of force.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said Tasers are only discharged in ten per cent of uses, and each one must be fully recorded, proportionate and justified.

Deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist said officers must protect people of all ages from harming themselves or others, often in fast-moving violent scenarios.

He added: “Officers have thousands of interactions with the public every day and force is not used in the vast majority of those.

“Officers receive guidance and training with the starting point being that they should attempt to resolve confrontations with the public without the need to use force.”

Superintendent Nick Morris said: “Keeping communities across Essex safe means our officers often have to intervene in challenging situations and, on occasion, have to employ a level of force to protect the public or keep someone from harming themselves.

“We police by consent and our officers are trained to use the minimum level of force required to resolve an incident quickly, efficiently and safely.

“All our officers are accountable for ensuring that if force is used, it is lawful and only applied when absolutely necessary.

“The most common reason when using force by our officers is preventing harm to the person in question.

“That is followed by effecting an arrest, protecting oneself and protecting officers.

“Mental health is also cited as a factor in 9 per cent of instances of use of force.

“We have rigorous oversight and scrutiny of use of force by officers by a Use of Force Board to ensure it is being used appropriately and proportionately and so we can continue to learn and improve.

“It is force policy that where an officer may be required to use force then their body worn video is turned on.

“This allows us to scrutinise each incident, to learn from them and ensure both the officers and public are protected.

“Essex Police has been rated as ‘good’ at treating the public with fairness and respect by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the independent body which regularly assesses forces.”