Pepper Spray – the new tool for extrajudicially punishing people police don’t like

It was supposed to be a non-lethal alternative to police having to seriously injury someone. Instead, capsicum spray is regularly used instead of

When pepper spray became a mainstream law enforcement tool in the 1990s, it was hailed as a relatively peaceful alternative to harsh physical violence.

But as demonstrated by the routine spraying of Occupy Wall Street activists, culminating in the horrific assault at the University of California, Davis, pepper spray can too easily become a tool of first and excessive resort…

Far from being what one Fox News pundit called a “food product,” pepper is a dangerous and sometimes deadly weapon

Like pepper sprays, Tasers were supposed to be tools of intermediate physical force, an alternative to hitting a resisting suspect with batons or grappling them to the ground. But Tasers also became alternatives to less-violent tactics and were used in situations where suspects had not physically resisted arrest.

Rather than talking, police too often go straight to the electricity — and the same may also happen with pepper spray.

The reason is obvious, according to Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition:

“When you have something that is readily available to you, something that’s on your belt like pepper spray, and you have a confrontation in front of you — the first thing you’re going to do, because you’re human, is use whatever is right there… All of the training that you might use, anything that allows you to use your other skills, goes out the door. The first thing you do is say, ‘I’m going to pepper-spray that kid.’ That’s a natural response.”

The studies discussed in the article are worth a look.

I wonder whether it’s just that O/C spray and tasers give police a greater sense of authority, a greater sense of power, and that makes them more assertive and aggressive, escalating confrontations. There’s also the fact that both O/C spray and tasers are extremely painful.

Not that any present members of our police forces would ever use such an opportunity to dole out some extrajudicial punishment to someone who, say, questioned their authority. But if some ordinary people who might succumb to that temptation were to join the force, are we certain they wouldn’t?

I think we should be very, very careful before adopting any of these new punitive weapons. Very careful.

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15 responses to “Pepper Spray – the new tool for extrajudicially punishing people police don’t like

  1. narcoticmusing

    Yes, when I read this http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/11/fox-news-on-uc-davis-pepper-spraying-its-a-food-product-essentially.php?ref=fpblg

    it seemed completely reasonable that the police were just helping the nasty, evil protesters with dietary requirements – I mean, look at this kids, they are so weak they can’t even stand. They clearly need a dietary supplement.
    [/end sarcasm]

  2. jordanrastrick

    I still prefer police to have tasers and/or pepper spray, at least if they are also going to routinely carry guns. I like that in NSW we have cameras on tasers and mandatory reviews of firings, although I don’t know those measures go far enough.

    But I’m possibly just selfish here, willing to trade a very large potential gain for me against a large potential loss for other people that’s much more common.

  3. narcoticmusing

    We need to be cognisant, as a community, that any use of force by an authorised officer would otherwise be a prohibited criminal act if done by any other member of the community. So when we consider endorsing forms of force or violations of civil liberties, without protections of due process (such as a Court proceeding), we need to be very, very careful.

  4. Tasers and pepper spray were introduced be an alternative to lethal or extreme force, increasing the threshold for the use of firearms. Instead we have them being used all the way down the appropriateness scale down to peaceful protesters lying in the street. I feel this is because security forces have no disincentive to use them.

    As Jordan mentions, they need to be regulated within police forces like in NSW but even more so. Presumably when police use a firearm on a suspect they weigh the costs of doing so – to the offender and to themselves. Otherwise they would use a glock on every pick-pocket. They could of course, but we and they know that there are costs.

    Non-lethal weapons are no different. There is a sliding scale of appropriate force and police have to be conditioned to ask those same questions when using a taser or pepper spray. Whether the annoyance of going through paperwork and reviews (or dismissal or criminal prosecution) is worth its usage instead of using negotiation or physical effort.

  5. Splatterbottom

    Narcotic: “We need to be cognisant, as a community, that any use of force by an authorised officer would otherwise be a prohibited criminal act if done by any other member of the community.”

    That is the idea. They do it so citizens don’t take the law into their own hands. Obviously court process is not possible in dealing with matters that arise in the course of policing. What we do need in those cases is a system to continually review the use of force and lay down appropriate guidelines, which we do have.

  6. Maybe police are less resistant to using pepper spray because they have guns and so see spray and Tasers as relatively benign; kinda “Coulda been worse” thinking: http://www.theage.com.au/national/teen-shot-dead-by-police-20081211-6wtt.html. Maybe if spray and Tasers were all they had, they’d be more circumspect in deploying them.

    Pepper spray is a food!? WTF!? (narcoticmusing: “police were just helping the nasty, evil protesters with dietary requirements… so weak they can’t even stand” lol)

  7. When you have something that is readily available to you, something that’s on your belt like pepper spray, and you have a confrontation in front of you — the first thing you’re going to do, because you’re human, is use whatever is right there…

    I’m not sure this is a particularly logical statement since police also carry guns on their person and yet are generally reluctant to employ them.

    I agree that the problem here is more likely to be toothless ‘guidelines’ about use of these items plus lazy and belligerant police who know they can get away with innapropriate use of tasers and pepper spray without consequence.

  8. I suspect onerous and annoying reporting requirements for every use of O/C spray would decrease its unnecessary application. It has to be more of a hassle to deploy than simply trying to reason with the person.

  9. The problem is not with the accoutrement’s of said police officer, it is the training, and selection process. I would know in another life I was unfortunate to have served. Yes SB just for you, they do let caring commies into the police force, only if you don’t tell them. They do back ground checks to see if you were a member of any left wing activist organisations. Of course if you are a rancid right wingnut that’s the equivalent of a tertiary equivalence of a diploma in legal studies.

  10. Pingback: The land of the free and home of the brave « 5 Star Laundry

  11. That is the idea. They do it so citizens don’t take the law into their own hands.

    Yes, every time, right? It was proper for the police to pepper spray the guy, which we know from the fact that they pepper sprayed him. Got it.

    And you call yourself a libertarian? What a joke.

  12. The real issue is that (theoretically) non-lethal weapons can, by their nature, be easily used as pain based tools of compliance, and thus police can make unauthorised demands on the population and use the threat of pain via an easily used low risk to the user pain based compliance weapon. An (allegedly) non lethal weapon has that advantage over a lethal one when it somes to actually controlling people, especially if they are drunk or affected by stimulants.

    Mondo: “I’m not sure this is a particularly logical statement since police also carry guns on their person and yet are generally reluctant to employ them.”

    The consequences of using a gun are far more full on than using allegedly non lethal weapons, both for the cop using the gun and the person they shoot. Killing someone brings lots of public attention, all sorts of enquiry, and creates a massive focus on the cop who used the gun and the police force and their powers in general, it also has consequenmces for the shooters well being/emotional state most of the time. (Unless you’re a seattle cop shooting a homeless man, or even a “drug related police shooting” in the US in general.)

  13. Notice those big metal Maglights the Police carry.
    Make a good baton but not classed as a weapon so therefore no paperwork has to be done if it is drawn.
    And it’s not the Police’s fault if you accidentally run into it.

  14. narcoticmusing

    To be fair Richard, I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest police brutality is commonplace.

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