OC use has reduced injuries since its introduction, especially in the corrections setting. OC, or Oleoresin Capsicum, is made from a chemical irritant resin extraction derived from hot peppers, which causes a burning sensation in tissues.
In many use-of-force models, policy for OC deployment and firearm deployment slightly overlap. In its recent history, OC is proven not only to be effective but statistically safe. Despite some limitations, few deaths have been attributed to OC deployments and even fewer can substantially list OC is the primary contributing factor.
Pepper spray in a gun fight?
Spraying and apologizing beats shooting and apologizing. Not all assailants expose their weapons for police to identify. If an officer finds himself in a situation where a person exhibits passive resistance with a weapon, spraying is appropriate. Passive resistance occurs when a person refuses the orders of a peace officer and the threat of injury is imminent, but no overt action by the subject has been taken. In this situation the threat exists, but an additional step must be taken to consummate that threat.
One example of a passive resistance situation where proactive spraying is appropriate is when the suspect displays a gun but does not threaten with it. The situation is compounded further if officers are not certain whether the gun is real. Obviously, officers should approach from cover and deliver verbal commands. While one officer keeps the suspect in his sight picture, the other can spray.
To the uninitiated, one would wonder why someone would bring pepper spray to a gunfight, especially when most delivery systems are limited to less than 25 feet — a little close for initiating a gunfight. The officer spraying must overlap until the moment of spraying. That is, he must use good cover to get where he needs to be. He begins with a deployed firearm and then switches to OC as the situation permits.
When approaching a situation where there is force continuum overlap, OC spray should be available on the duty belt for either hand, in front of the handgun, on or forward of the hip bone, or on the opposite side forward of the hip bone. This way, the handgun can be deployed with one hand and the OC with either.
It could be argued that the officer who blades himself in the interview stance will expose the OC if it is worn on the opposite hip. This is a reasonable argument: If this doesn't work for the officer, no problem — wear it in front of the gun. Nothing should be worn that might impede the gun draw.
Consider including an agency pre-deployment procedure that pre-positions EMS. That way, emergency medical attention is standing by to relieve the arrestee once subdued.
Correctional officers often employ another version of pre-deployment. Because cross-contamination is a common risk while using chemical agents, some facilities keep a few officers in reserve before the fight begins.
Pre-deployment should be carefully guided by procedure. Officers should use "canned language" to request pre-deployment. In this request, they should include where the officer wishes to have EMS and a brief outline of circumstance. This helps avoid verbal slips over the radio like, "He's going to and need an ambulance ..." or, "He's acting stupid." An example of a proper pre-deployment request could be, "... have EMS preposition at 5th and Elm. I will update as necessary."
Pre-deployment is an operational luxury that can only happen under certain circumstances. But it is something that should be discussed in training updates so officers know that this tool is available.
OC does not work in every situation and certainly does not work on everyone. Officers who use OC should know it might not work, and operate accordingly. In several surveys of law enforcement professionals, the use of the baton was listed as a much higher level of force than chemical agents. This is one benefit of using OC. Because it is an irritant, its success should be known immediately. If it isn't successful, it's time for plan B.