Police OC Spray

Use of Force – Less Lethal Options – OC Spray

Within the Daigle Law Group Policy Center policies concerning less-lethal force related to OC spray, we have looked at a number of issues that you need to keep in mind when applying this force option. Each less-lethal force option comes with its own set of conditions, needs for medical attention and report writing requirements. Let’s look at a few of the specific concerns – both operational and constitutional – that come with the use of OC spray. 

Within the Daigle Law Group Policy Center policies concerning less-lethal force related to OC spray, we have looked at a number of issues that you need to keep in mind when applying this force option. Each less-lethal force option comes with its own set of conditions, needs for medical attention and report writing requirements. Let’s look at a few of the specific concerns – both operational and constitutional – that come with the use of OC spray. 

OC Spray – Operational Concerns 

I am sure you have lived through being sprayed with OC spray either at the academy or during in-service just as I have. We have all had a good laugh watching our peers drooling and weeping as they run for the milk container or water. Not so funny, however, when you’re fighting with a hostile suspect and both of you are contaminated.

There are times when OC spray is not the appropriate tool to take out of the tool bag. This includes those situations where: 

  • You are within 3 feet or less of the suspect and spraying the suspect will most likely contaminate you or other officers; or 
  • Weather conditions are not conducive to the use of OC spray – windy or rainy conditions 

Some of you may remember Jim Croce singing “You can’t spit into the wind” – the same applies to OC spray. 

When reasonable and safe to do so, officers need to give verbal commands prior to using OC spray and give the subject an opportunity to comply. Your ability to talk to people and gain compliance through your voice is the best tool you can have in your toolbox. And, like our TASER use, each application of OC spray needs to stand on its own merits and be supported by actively resisting behavior. 

Application of the OC spray product should be made in 1- second bursts and officers need to give the subject an opportunity to comply. Officers should not aim the spray directly at the eyes and OC spray should not be used around an open flame. 

When IS Use of OC Spray NOT Appropriate?

Officers will not use OC spray on passively resisting subjects. Passively resisting subjects include those subjects who go limp or offer no physical resistance.

OC spray should not be used on individuals with frail health, young children, the elderly, women believed to be pregnant, or persons with known respiratory conditions. In these cases, the spray should only be used under exceptional circumstances involving imminent danger of suffering serious bodily harm, and the use of the pepper spray is the only reasonable method to control the child or elderly in order to avoid harm. 

OC spray is not the appropriate tool in the toolbox in an enclosed, highly populated space where there is a likelihood that innocent people will be affected by the spray. 

Finally, OC spray should not be used in confined spaces or to wake up or arouse unconscious or sleeping individuals. 

Post Application Procedures 

Once compliance is obtained it is important for officers to assure the subject that compliance will result in no further applications of spray and decontamination procedures are forthcoming. The subject should be handcuffed and moved to a non-contaminated area as soon as possible. Assure the subject that the effects of the OC spray are temporary and flush affected areas with water to alleviate the effects of the spray. 

Make sure to ask the subject if they have any respiratory issues such as emphysema or asthma. Let’s face it – we don’t always deal with people in the best of health and we need to be sure that the application of the OC has not compounded a pre-existing medical condition. The subject needs to be continually monitored and not left alone until the effects of the OC spray have completely diminished. It is also important that an arresting officer advise booking room staff if the suspect is going to be left in another officer’s custody or left in the booking room. OC effects should wane within 45 minutes, so subjects need to be monitored throughout that period. 

Most importantly – if there is any question concerning the subject’s condition, have the subject examined by medical personnel. 

There have been a number of studies concerning the issue of positional asphyxia. Many current studies debunk concerns made in the early studies. That said, it is important that officers follow their directive and assure that the subject is maintained in an upright position following the use of pepper spray. 

SUMMARY 

There are a number of situations where the use of OC spray is the appropriate tool in the toolbox, but there are also situations, as we discussed above, where officers need to keep the OC can in the holster and move to a different tool. Your agency training and directives will help you make the right decision.

OC Spray – Operational Concerns 

I am sure you have lived through being sprayed with OC spray either at the academy or during in-service just as I have.  We have all had a good laugh watching our peers drooling and weeping as they run for the milk container or water.  Not so funny, however, when you’re fighting with a hostile suspect and both of you are contaminated.  

There are times when OC spray is not the appropriate tool to take out of the tool bag.  This includes those situations where: 

  • You are within 3 feet or less of the suspect and spraying the suspect will most likely contaminate you or other officers; or 
  • Weather conditions are not conducive to the use of OC spray – windy or rainy conditions 

Some of you may remember Jim Croce singing “You can’t spit into the wind” – the same applies to OC spray. 

When reasonable and safe to do so, officers need to give verbal commands prior to using OC spray and give the subject an opportunity to comply. Your ability to talk to people and gain compliance through your voice is the best tool you can have in your toolbox. And, like our TASER use, each application of OC spray needs to stand on its own merits and be supported by actively resisting behavior. 

Application of the OC spray product should be made in 1- second bursts and officers need to give the subject an opportunity to comply. Officers should not aim the spray directly at the eyes and OC spray should not be used around an open flame. 

When IS Use of OC Spray NOT Appropriate 

Officers will not use OC spray on passively-resisting subjects.  Passively resisting subjects include those subjects who go limp or offer no physical resistance.   

OC spray should not be used on individuals with frail health, young children, the elderly, women believed to be pregnant, or persons with known respiratory conditions.  In these cases, the spray should only be used under exceptional circumstances involving imminent danger of suffering serious bodily harm, and the use of the pepper spray is the only reasonable method to control the child or elderly in order to avoid harm. 

OC spray is not the appropriate tool in the toolbox in an enclosed, highly populated space where there is a likelihood that innocent people will be affected by the spray. 

Finally, OC spray should not be used in confined spaces or to wake up or arouse unconscious or sleeping individuals. 

Post Application Procedures 

Once compliance is obtained it is important for officers to assure the subject that compliance will result in no further applications of spray and decontamination procedures are forthcoming.  The subject should be handcuffed and moved to a non-contaminated areas as soon as possible.  Assure the subject that the effects of the OC spray are temporary and flush affected areas with water to alleviate the effects of the spray. 

Make sure to ask the subject if they have any respiratory issues such as emphysema or asthma.  Let’s face it – we don’t always deal with people in the best of health and we need to be sure that the application of the OC has not compounded a pre-existing medical condition.  The subject needs to be continually monitored and not left alone until the effects of the OC spray have completely diminished.  It is also important that an arresting officer advise booking room staff if the suspect is going to be left in another officer’s custody or left in the booking room.  OC effects should wane within 45 minutes so subjects need to be monitored throughout that period. 

Most importantly – if there is any question concerning the subject’s condition, have the subject examined by medical personnel. 

There have been a number of studies concerning the issue of positional asphyxia.  Many current studies debunk concerns made in the early studies.  That said, it is important that officers follow their directive and assure that the subject is maintained in an upright position following the use of pepper spray.   

SUMMARY 

There are a number of situations where the use of OC spray is the appropriate tool in the toolbox, but there are also situations, as we discussed above, where officers need to keep the OC can in the holster and move to a different tool.  Your agency training and directives will help you make the right decision.