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Bath Salts, The Fear Factor and Handcuffing

A few years ago my wife knew I had a rough day at work so she prepared a bath for me and put bath salts in the bath water.  The salts were designed for aromatherapy, which in turn was supposed to relax me.  It was going be one of those kinds of nights.  I was never once temped to snort the bath salts to see what would happen.  Last year I encountered a young man who was under the influence of bath salts and at the time my state did not outlaw them for illicit use and neither did the DEA.  Since that time both have done so.

Methylenedioxypyrovalerone & Mephedrone

These are the active ingredients of bath salts.  Just looking at the name alone tells me I don’t want to be around it.  The euphoric feeling on a user is similar to Methamphetamine and Cocaine with the added benefit of hallucinations.  For the older coppers still on the beat, from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, think of PCP+ if you even have to deal with someone under the influence of this.  Street names are “Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning, Hurricane Charlie, Vanilla, Sky, Charge and White Knight.”  Make sure you visit the website below (Burning Tree) that gives a great pictorial overview of Bath Salt abuse. 

Fear Factor

It’s been reported that Poison Control Authorities are seeing increased incidents where the abuser exhibit “extreme paranoia, delusions of super-human strength…violent behavior, and possibly even murder.”  Even Emergency Room treatments for those who have overdosed on the typical drugs of abuse have reported that their protocols have not been very effective in handling this substance.  The bottom line is that this stuff is nasty and just when we think drugs couldn’t get worse to handle we encounter something else.  Another issue to consider are the users.  My suspect was an eighteen-year-old kid.  College students know that if they are caught with Coke, Meth, Heroin or Marijuana for example, they will loose their financial aid from the feds.  That’s an awfully expensive high, which could make them even more dangerous to handle.  Put them under the influence of a substance that makes them believe they can run through windows and fly with you underneath their arms and your first encounter could escalate to deadly force the moment you exit your cruiser.  Any indication of abuse should necessitate that the officer establish immediate control first, and then further investigation.  In other words, put cuffs on and ask questions later.

One particular irk I had is when cops were afraid to put handcuffs on suspects.  Whoever taught a cop that they should approach a potentially dangerous situation, watch a suspect give indications of impending violence, and then stand still asking questions while waiting to become a victim of an assault?  Ever hear the phrase, “We train our officers to get killed”?  When not acting tactically for survival the officer has made a choice to protect the liability of their police agency rather than live.  Again, you think, feel, surmise, get goose bumps, then cuff and ask questions afterward.  I realize that some agencies have supervisors who would rather initiate an internal affairs investigation of their troops rather than defend the actions of a lawfully acting cop.  So for those coppers, load your legal notebook with the U.S. Supreme Court decisions pertaining to handcuffing suspects.  Rely on the law and not the subjective opinions of your desk driving supervisors:

1)     Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981) – some noteworthy factors identified by the Justices:  “’Preventing flight in the event incriminating evidence is found’”; “’minimizing risk of officers’”, among others.

2)     Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) – This police Use of Force foundational case described the following by the Justices:  “’Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to affect it’”. 

Adding it up

You know how mean the streets can be.  There is no referee in the back yard of a home you just chased a suspect behind at 0300 hours.  Some of these chemicals that suspects are ingesting are doing things to people that science has yet to figure out, but can give the perpetrator super-human strength.  Brush up on your body language skills for threat recognition, and ACT by handcuffing them when appropriate.  It’s a case-by-case situation upon review with emphasis placed on officer safety due to Graham, the official position of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

I would always suggest engaging your law director, prosecutor or police legal advisor with questions before a problem occurs. 


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About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.