How "Hot" is Too Hot?
One of the major, ongoing controversies regarding the deployment of OC spray is how much heat does it take to control a suspect. Let's look at the pros and cons of having a very effective OC spray that is able to knock down most resisting subjects immediately.
Paul Ford, the product-line specialist for Defense Technology/Federal Laboratories and Guardian Aerosols explains that although it is the job of the manufacturers to provide the best products to suit the needs of their customers, they also have a duty to inform the customers of the benefits and risks of super- hot sprays.
Ford says that officers are asking the manufacturers for hotter, more potent aerosols, and the manufacturers have the technology to meet that demand. But the question is, just where do you want OC spray to fit in your escalation-of-force policy?
Traditionally, OC has been placed in the low end of any use-of-force model-usually somewhere in between verbal commands and hard empty hand control. As OC spray is made hotter and therefore more effective, there is an argument that this may move aerosol weapons up to the level of an intermediate weapon or beyond.
Ford says manufacturers can satisfy the need of their customers for different strength OC Products, but that customers need to be aware of the effects of the different types of OC Spray available for their use.
Another issue with newer, hotter sprays is cross-contamination. Any cop who's ever used OC without a gas mask knows that there's a good chance that he or other cops will feel the burn as well as the subject. So the question becomes, how hot of an aerosol spray do you want to be contaminated with in cross-contamination and crossfire situations.
Today, most officers can be conditioned to take secondary and even direct exposure to traditional OC sprays. But as hotter sprays hit the market, will we reach a point where deployment of OC spray will require additional medical response for incapacitated officers?
Think about this for a moment. Your agency probably matches the protection of its issue body armor to the caliber and ammo type of its duty pistols. This is to protect you from accidental fire from other officers and from crossfire situations. But if your agency fields a superhot spray, what will protect you from it? Do you want to be exposed to or contaminated with an OC spray that will incapacitate you?
Extremely hot OC spray may be appropriate for specialized situations where the officers responding have donned protective (gas) masks, i.e. barricaded subjects or prison riots. In other cases, other less effective forms of OC spray may be the way to go.
Finally, decontamination time is a consideration for both the subject and the officers involved in an application of aerosol sprays. About 20 to 30 minutes is considered a good recovery time from OC spray. Stronger aerosol sprays take more time to recover from and can take up to an hour to an hour-and-a-half or longer for full recovery.
This could be a problem on several levels. A prisoner in custody who has been contaminated with OC spray usually ties up at least one officer to monitor him or her for reactions that may require medical attention. If you add to this an officer that has been incapacitated by being exposed to or contaminated by OC, even more officers are tied up for longer periods of time.
Hotter, more effective OC spray may end the initial confrontation quickly but require more time for decontamination of both officers and subjects. And that's a potentially serious problem. Proper police action is a balance of safety and efficiency. Although safety is always our number one concern, this must be balanced against how efficiently we clear the call while utilizing "reasonable" force based on the level of threat presented by the subject.
As with any weapon system, the use of good tactics with OC spray is the key to success.
No aerosol weapon, especially OC spray, stops a subject right in his or her tracks. It may take several seconds for the OC to take effect. This is especially the case with formulations designed to be used lower on your escalation-of-force scale that offer rapid decontamination. But even hotter formulations of OC won't work immediately on all subjects. Keep your distance, evaluate the spray's effects, and respond accordingly.
Always retain your ability to disengage and/or escalate. Knowing that nothing works all the time helps you plan for both success and failure. If the OC doesn't work, you must be ready to immediately respond with empty hand control tactics, disengage and get more distance, or draw either a baton or firearm in order to control the situation.
The best way to disengage is the tactical "L" concept. This maneuver allows an officer to disengage from a subject safely using his or her natural instinct. The natural response of anyone who is being attacked from the front is to unconsciously take a couple of steps backwards. This natural response is enhanced by then moving laterally four or five steps to change direction and confuse the assailant. The shape of the maneuver, an "L," gives this tactic its name.
Another key tactical concern is to avoid being sprayed by either blowback from your own OC, shots from another officer or even an OC assault from a subject. The best way to avoid being sprayed is to have a preplanned, practiced response developed prior to the assault. Some of the things you can do include holding your breath, covering your eyes with at least one arm, looking away momentarily to avoid the direct effects of the spray, having an empty hand strike ready for a counter strike, and being prepared to move and draw your firearm if it is not already out.
Your tactics should also include ways for multiple officers to take a suspect into custody. One very good way to do this is the "Circle of Defense" concept that was developed by Enforcement Technology Group as a part of its V-4 Control OC Spray Training Program.
This tactic requires officers to encircle a subject about to be sprayed. Rather than having all the officers rush the subject and placing them all in danger of cross-contamination, the spraying officer draws the subject in. Once the subject makes a move, the other officers ready themselves for subject control tactics. Then, after the spray is dispensed and the subject is displaying a "pause in combat," the officers take him or her into custody. This tactic also takes into consideration where "innocent" bystanders are positioned, so that you can avoid creating a panic by spraying persons who are not directly involved in the situation.