Belfast Telegraph

Skunk oil spray and sonic blasts to fight rioters

PSNI crowd control tactics may change

By Deborah McAleese

Skunk oil could be used as a future weapon against rioters as the PSNI searches for alternatives to the plastic bullet to control violent street disorder.

The PSNI has been looking at methods adopted by other police forces to quell civil disorder in a bid to find a potential replacement for the controversial use of baton rounds, Chief Constable Matt Baggott has said.

Other options that have been considered include riot ‘beanbag’ rounds, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) and the use of higher stream pressure from water cannon.

Mr Baggott said that although alternative options, including skunk oil, have been ruled out “for now”, they have “not been ruled out completely”.

Skunk oil was developed in 2004 by the Israeli Defence Force as a scent-based form of crowd control following accusations that disproportionate force was being used during civil unrest.

Using it in situations of street disorder here would involve pellets containing malodorous liquid being fired at rioters from weapons similar to paintball guns.

Other UK police forces are also considering the use of skunk oil to help police tackle rioters following a recent briefing by Home Office scientists.

“If you get hit with skunk oil, then you stink,” Mr Baggott said.

“We do not have any alternatives to AEP (Attenuating Expanding Projectile, i.e plastic bullets) this year because we haven’t found anything that is less dangerous. We have been across the world looking for alternatives. But none of this is for us at the moment. That is not to say there won’t be an alternative,” he said.

He added: “At this stage all of these options are either being tested or used in different situations, so we have ruled them out for now. Skunk oil has been ruled out for now. But no, it has not been ruled out completely. We are exploring if there is something more we can do with the water cannon.”

During 10 nights of serious rioting across Northern Ireland last year, 350 plastic bullets were fired by police.

A total of 70 plastic bullets were fired during trouble in east Belfast last June when officers and photographers came under live fire from both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

Although their use is strictly controlled, the tactics have been the subject of heated debate.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, a member of the Policing Board, last week challenged the Chief Constable not to use plastic bullets should serious violence break out this summer.

At a meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday, Mr Kelly told Mr Baggott that PSNI operations during some recent minor disturbances had been “examples of excellent policing”.

He said he believed the PSNI was “making advances” and added: “If you can get through this year without a plastic bullet being fired you will have made substantial moves. It is not worth plastic bullets being fired.”

The Chief Constable said: “We only use AEPs when there is a significant threat to people’s lives.

“This is often about young people in a moment of madness. I would much prefer this money being spent on developing neighbourhood policing rather than riots.”

The Options

  • Skunk oil is a non-lethal weapon used for crowd control by the Israeli Defence Forces. It is dispersed as a form of mist which leaves a terrible odour of rot or sewage on whatever it touches. It does not wash off easily. First attempts at developing a scent-based form of crowd control began in Israel in 2004 and was first used for these purposes in September 2008.
  • Beanbag rounds are in common use in the US. They are flat envelopes of fabric containing lead shot, designed to deliver a blow that will cause minimum long-term trauma.
  • Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) which can send pain inducing tones over longer distances than normal loudspeakers. The system has been used in some countries as a non-lethal crowd control weapon.
  • Increase the pressure of water cannons.

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