Jason Mosher

Sheriff's Journal

Vernon County Sheriff.


Is the Taser the end to pepper spray?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Taser has become the icon of less lethal weapons and has begun to phase out pepper spray over the last several years.

Pepper spray, also known as OC Spray, or Capsicum Spray has been used for a long time. The Aztecs, Mayan Indians, ancient Chinese, and Japanese were all using the effects of peppers as a weapon long before it was commercialized. The Mayans would use red hot chili peppers by burning them in large quantities causing capsicum to be released with the smoke. This would burn the eyes and skin of the enemy.

Although the use of a spray that contained capsicum (from the chili peppers) was created much earlier, it was not until the 1980s that manufactures started selling the product as a self-defense item. 1987 is when the FBI adopted the use of OC Spray, and it quickly became common use for all law enforcement shortly after.

OC Spray can be highly effective but like anything, there are pros and cons.

Why has the Taser begun to replace OC spray? The first and foremost reason is how fast it works. Although OC Spray is very effective, it can still take a few seconds or in some cases minutes to start working. The Taser can subdue a violent suspect instantly causing him to lose all control for a short time (neuromuscular incapacitation). That is a benefit of the Taser and a downfall for OC Spray.

Where you will see a large difference in the two less lethal weapons after they have been deployed is again the time factor. Although OC Spray may take longer to start working, it also lasts longer. Once the spray has worked its way into the eyes, they will burn for a short time.

A Taser on the other hand is only effective for the 5 seconds it is being deployed. Once the cycle of the Taser has completed, you need to have your suspect in custody or there is a chance they could try and fight back again.

OC Spray stays working for much longer than 5 seconds, but that can also be a problem. I remember the first time I encountered two suspects fighting in the street and deployed OC Spray after a failed attempt to break them up. They were determined to keep fighting and did not want me in the way.

I sprayed both of them with OC Spray and stepped back to let it work. For a short time they acted like it did not faze them; then they started rubbing their eyes, and then I had them both in handcuffs. The stuff worked great! Unfortunately, it keeps on working when you do not want it to.

The spray had gotten all over them because they were rolling around in the street. Because of this, during the process of placing them in hand cuffs, I got it on me as well. If you have ever had two people covered in OC Spray in your car as well as having it all over your hands, you become leery of its use! All three of us cried all the way to the county jail.

Detention officers at the county jail carry Tasers, but also have access to OC Spray. Each one has its purpose and will remain available to our deputies, so when possible they can be used as an alternative to deadly force.