PEPPER SPRAY IS INEFFECTIVE

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  • This Event Happened in BERKELEY POLICE REVIEW COMMISSION
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  • THE EFFECTIVENESS OF O.C. PEPPER SPRAY AN ANALYSIS OF BERKELEY POLICE REPORTS This study of the effectiveness of OC pepper spray, prepared by the Police Review Commission of the City of Berkeley, is believed to be the first and only independent study of the effectiveness of police use of pepper spray in the United States. This study is based entirely on information contained within police incident reports. All of the data analyzed in this study is derived from the statements of police officers themselves, who have either used or directly observed the use of OC pepper spray in the field. (It should be noted that, so as to provide information to the City Council in a timely fashion, this study was produced within 20 days of receipt of the data and no funds were expended in producing this study.) Some 3,000 Police Departments throughout the United States are now using OC Pepper Spray as a law enforcement tool to subdue violent or combative subjects. Tens of thousands of persons, among them police officers, have been exposed to this chemical weapon. Despite this sudden and widespread deployment of OC, there has been very little study of the effectiveness of the product. Pepper Spray manufactures have touted their product as 100% effective. The FBI study conducted by Agent Thomas Ward made similar grandiose claims. Several police departments have reported effectiveness in the 80% to 90% range. The Baltimore County Police Department was awarded a research grant by the NIJ and the IACP to conduct a research project in the use of OC spray. This study concluded that the overall effectiveness of OC in confrontational encounters was 90%. Other researchers have questioned some of the assumptions and criteria for "effectiveness" of the Baltimore study and suggest that the data in the report shows O.C. to be 80 -82% effective. (The Medical Implications of OC Sprays, Mike Doubet) In contrast, testing conducted by the American Womens Self Defense Institute and by Modern Warrior shows OC spray to be almost completely ineffective against a "goal oriented" attacker. In all of the above mentioned studies, there appears to be no consistent standard definition for what constitutes effectiveness, no consistent methodology of analysis, and vastly differing conclusions, ranging from 0% to 100% effective. Berkeley Police Report Database On October 3, 1997, the Berkeley Police Department provided the Police Review Commission with all "adult" police incident reports in which police used OC pepper spray since the chemical agent was first deployed in mid-1993. The reports are presumed to refer to 36 separate incidents in which officers used OC spray. Three of these reports provided to the Commission contain no information about the use of OC and could not be included in the analysis. In many of these reports, OC spray is used more than once and sometimes by more than one officer, but is considered as one incident for purposes of this analysis. In addition, three other incident reports describing OC use were obtained, bringing the total number of pepper spray incidents included in the database back up to thirty-six. These include two reports filed with the California Department of Justice and one incident report obtained through the Commissions complaint process. Criteria for Determining Effectiveness This study makes no attempt to establish an arbitrary definition of effectiveness, but rather examines the "totality of circumstances" and makes an assessment of the effectiveness of OC spray in the context of each unique situation. We find that the greater significance of this study is contained in the data itself, rather than the Commissions interpretation of that data. One may examine the statements made in these police reports and come to their own conclusions about the effectiveness of OC. Berkeleys City Manager issued a report to the City Council on September 9, 1997 and found that "the pepper spray was reported to be ineffective thirteen times (35%) of the time." This 35% ineffective assessment is substantially higher than results reported by any other law enforcement agency in the United States. The City Managers report also found that "Thirty-four of the incidents involved violent or bizarre behavior ending up in a physical struggle with the police officer." In most of the incidents examined by the Police Review Commission, we find that a police officers observations and the actions of the subject who was sprayed with the OC demonstrate quite clearly whether the use of the OC spray was effective, ineffective, or partially effective. In other incidents, there is ambiguous or insufficient information contained in the report to make a reasonable assessment of the effectiveness of OC. Findings of the Police Review Commission The analysis conducted by the Police Review Commission of the 36 police incident reports shows the following: Officers Using OC pepper spray 7 Out of a total of approximately 200 sworn officers in the Berkeley Police Department, only 27 officers (13%) have ever used OC pepper spray. 7 One officer is responsible for 8 out of the 36 uses of OC spray (22%). 7 Only one female officer has ever used OC pepper spray. Effectiveness of OC pepper spray 7 OC pepper spray was found to be "ineffective" in 19 out of 36 incidents (53%). [If the 6 incidents of "unknown effectiveness" are removed from the total number of incidents, OC spray was found to be "ineffective" in 63% of the all the incidents in which it was used.] 7 OC spray was found to be "partially effective" in 4 out of 36 incidents (11%). 7 OC spray was found to be "effective" in 7 out of 36 incidents (19.4 %). 7 OC spray was found to be of "unknown effectiveness" in 6 out of 36 incidents (17%). 7 Police officers experienced "Secondary Exposure" in 7 out of 36 incidents (19.4%). 7 The subject sprayed with OC became "more aggressive" in 10 out of 36 incidents (28%). Officer Safety Considerations Perhaps the most disturbing results of study are the problems associated with secondary exposure to OC spray and the propensity of use of OC spray to result in a more aggressive subject. In nearly 20% of all situations in which OC spray has been used, an officer was adversely affected by the chemical agent. In one incident, the officer required hospitalization. In other situations, officer exposure to the OC allowed the subject an opportunity to escape. The danger of secondary exposure to police officers poses serious officer safety implications. We find that the 20% rate of secondary exposure is unacceptably high and makes police use of OC a risky proposition. Similarly, because the use of OC spray results in a more aggressive subject in 28% of incidents in which it is used, we find that the use of OC poses an unacceptable level of risk to officer safety. [The 28% "more aggressive" statistic is closely corroborated by the study conducted by the Peel Regional Police of Canada (Ashton, 1994). This study of 96 usages of OC spray found that "24% of the subjects became more aggressive" after exposure to OC spray.] Recommendation to Council The Police Review Commission recommends that the Berkeley Police Department discontinue the use of OC pepper spray. Issues pertinent to effectiveness of OC spray and to officer safety are addressed in this report. However, the serious medical health complications associated with the use of OC spray as well as the adverse impact on police-community relations are also important factors that contribute to the recommendation of the Police Review Commission.


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