Why Not Pepper Spray
We’re used to seeing police officers and sheriffs stop through and do the same thing, and they usually give us a wave and a quick “Have a good evening” as we cross paths. This time, one of the officers walked over to our group and started up a great conversation.
We discussed where the trouble spots we knew and they knew, the advantages and disadvantages of being on foot or in a car, etc. He reminded us that some victimless crimes were beyond the scope of the department to handle, and they (and we) were encouraged to focus their attention on more interpersonal crimes like assault, battery, robbery, etc. He was familiar with the Guardian Angels, and helped inform his partner about us, even asking for correction for any points he may have missed. It was a friendly conversation.
Cop Suggests We Carry Weapons?
At one point he asked, “So, what do you guys carry? I don’t see any guns obviously, but maybe pepper spray?”
Of course, we told him that, “No, as an organization on patrol we don’t carry ANY weapons at all.”
He chuckled and said, “Man, you gotta change that! At least carry pepper spray! Wow.”
It seems like every week, we walk by a club and find people outside crying and complaining from the effects of pepper spray. Bouncers know that they are usually too small a force to stop a growing fight inside their club, and a quick shot of pepper spray will disperse the group more often than not. Sure enough, it makes a big difference in a hurry most of the time. So is it a good idea for more people to carry it? Should we ever consider it on patrol in places it’s legal to carry?
Pepper Spray Might Make You Violent
It turns out that having a less-lethal “weapon” choice, like pepper spray, can make you MORE prone to use physical force than if you had been unarmed in the first place. According to an article in Wired.com magazine:
“In one analysis, criminologists found that police use of force rose by 33 percent in Concord, North Carolina following the approval of pepper spray as a law enforcement tool. After an arrestee died in custody after being sprayed, pepper spray use was restricted; use-of-force incidents then fell by 57 percent, even though arrest rates rose by almost 4 percent.”
What We Face on the Street
That’s totally inconsistent with the message we’re trying to send on patrol. We don’t want to make arrests and we don’t even want to use force. What we really want is to be visible deterrents to crime before it starts.
We’ve seen it often enough: two “tough guys” square off and start their predictable show-off dance … and then the Guardian Angels walk through, sending them in opposite directions. They both save face, continue to believe their fantasies about how tough they are and that they (of course) would have won the fight. That’s how 95% of the “action” happens.
This is How We Do It
But nobody gets hurt. We almost never strike at anyone at all, most of our “grappling” consists of guiding force on their elbows; we grab ‘em, spin ‘em and send ‘em packing. And they almost never resist to want to fight us.
I stop and think now, would it have been easier to break up those almost-fights by pepper spraying the participants? Yes. Of course it would be easier. Would it work just as well? Probably yes – I think it would stop them … but stop them from what? From not quite fighting? Do we really need to offer them 40 minutes of agony because they were average drunk young males trying to impress their friends with their machismo?
Are they our enemies that we must defeat? Of course not. They can’t be upset at us. In the morning they probably don’t even remember we were there. So, we can’t let our egos take charge and want to “win” or we’re doing exactly what we tried to stop them from doing. We now know that having the tools makes it MUCH more likely that we would use them, and I’m glad we don’t.
What do you think? Should everyone carry pepper spray in their daily lives? Do you think we should carry it on patrol? Why or why not?