Handcuffed ... Salecia Johnson, 6.

Handcuffed ... Salecia Johnson, 6. Photo: AP

Police in the US handcuffed a kindergarten student with her arms behind her back after the girl threw a tantrum and the police chief defended the action as a safety measure.

The girl's family demanded that their central Georgia city change policy so that other children aren't treated the same way. They say the child was shaken up by the ordeal.

While it's unusual to see a young child handcuffed in school, it's not unheard of. School officials around the nation have wrestled with the issue of when it's appropriate to call police on a student.

Salecia Johnson, 6, was accused of tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys in an outburst Friday at Creekside Elementary School in Milledgeville, according to a police report.

Police said a small shelf thrown by the child struck the principal in the leg during the fracas. The child also jumped on a paper shredder and tried to break a glass frame, the police report states.

The school called police. When an officer tried to calm the child in the principal's office, she resisted, police say. She "was restrained by placing her hands behind her back and handcuffed", a police report states.

A juvenile complaint was filed, accusing the girl of simple battery and damage to property.

The police department's policy is to handcuff people when they are taken to the police station, regardless of their age, interim Police Chief Dray Swicord said. He said the child was restrained with steel cuffs, the only kind the department uses.

"The reason we handcuff detainees is for the safety of themselves as well as the officer," he said on Tuesday.

The girl's aunt, Candace Ruff, went with the child's mother to pick her up from the police station. She said Salecia had been in a holding cell and complained about the handcuffs.

"She said they were really tight. She said they really hurt her wrists," Ruff said. "She was so shaken up when we went there to pick her up."

The police chief said the girl was taken to the police department's squad room, not a holding cell, and officers there tried to calm her and gave her a Coke.

Officials at Creekside Elementary did not immediately return calls.

The girl was suspended and can't return to school until August, her mother, Constance Ruff, told WMAZ-TV, which first reported the story.

"We would not like to see this happen to another child, because it's horrifying. It's devastating," her aunt told The Associated Press.

Elsewhere in the US, incidents involving students, police and handcuffs have raised difficult questions for educators, parents and policymakers.

In Florida, the use of police in schools came up several years ago when officers arrested a kindergarten student who threw a tantrum during a jelly bean-counting contest. Since then, the overall number of student arrests in Florida has declined, but those for minor offences have increased on a percentage basis. A bill was proposed this year to restrict police from arresting kids for misdemeanours or other acts that do not pose serious safety threats.

Annette Montano, a mother in Albuquerque said her 13-year-old son was arrested last year after burping in gym class. After more problems, she said, she pulled him from the school in November. It took her three months to get him placed elsewhere.

AP