Police officer’s have many tools to protect our community. One of those tools that many law enforcement officers have a strong appreciation for is, Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Spray, commonly know as pepper spray. Their appreciation has built for one important reason, it works! It adds a force option that can effectively disable a threat from a distance, which is important because as we know, distance = time, which = SAFETY. For the purpose of this article we will look at OC as less lethal force option for the self defense minded citizen.
OC spray is not new by any means. The Chinese are credited with using pepper irritants over 2000 years ago, The U.S. Military developed an OC compound in 1930, but were unable to make a delivery system. In 1970, companies began to produce OC spray and in 1976 it worked its way into the Law Enforcement community. In 1989 the FBI conducted tests and approved OC spray, since then it has been a major part of the use of force continuum in the United States.
When I speak of use of force, one word comes to my mind, options. Police officers carry many options in their toolbox, physical presence, verbal commands, soft hand defense, OC spray, Tasers, hard hand defense, batons, and firearms. This allows them to properly and tactically escalate and deescalate the Force Continuum. Self defense minded citizens often carry only one option, deadly force, a firearm. Most citizens do not seek out and get training on verbal judo, hand to hand combat and other less lethal tools. They strap a firearm on their waist and head out into the unknown, but what happens when the threat does not warrant deadly force, there is a need to fill that void with a safe & legal defense option. One easy solution to this is OC. It is simple and legal to carry in most situations, and requires minimal training, around 4 hours to become proficient in its use.
Let’s take a deeper look into OC Spray. Oleoresin Capsicum is a mixture of natural oils and resin, a variety of garden peppers, anti freeze and a propellant. It is available in a variety of delivery devices and from several manufactures OC is available in different percentages, i.e. 5%, 10% & even 15%. This can be misleading, as the percentage refers to the amount of OC in the can. The strength of the pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) and this can vary greatly between manufacturers. There are also different spray patterns, cone, stream, spatter and foam. For this article we will focus on the two most common types, cone and stream.
The cone pattern delivers OC in finely atomized particles, picture a typical aerosol product like hairspray. At between 3 and 4 feet the carrier evaporates and lets only the OC hit the target. The effective range is between 4 and 6 feet. The cone pattern spreads as it goes out so it covers a large area, but it is very susceptible to environmental factors such as wind and rain. It is also ineffective when used at close ranges because the carrier encapsulates the OC and compromises it’s effectiveness.
The stream pattern is my preferred method of application. It works like a squirt gun. It is affected much less by wind or rain, has an effective range of around 12 feet, but can also be effective at close ranges, but it is pressurized so if possible avoid aiming at the eyes at distances within 3 feet.
Once the OC hits the target, he/she will feel the symptoms almost immediately, these symptoms include; involuntary closing of the eyes, intense pain, loss of balance, loss of coordination, loss of strength and most important loss of will to fight. These symptoms are temporary and will subside in 15 to 45 minutes in most people. There is little chance of serious injury when properly used. It is also important to understand how OC will affect you. Anytime I have used OC, or been there when it was used, I always got a dose mid fight. You need to understand the feeling and be able to fight through it.
When I was sprayed for the first time during training, I had to fight off an attacker for 2 minutes. I learned two lessons from that exercise, the first was empowering, that I could continue to fight and survive if I was sprayed, the second was scary, and that the person I just sprayed could fight through it! In short, OC is very effective when used correctly, but always have a back up plan, either a different force option, or a tactical retreat, aka running away.
OC is a great tool to add to your toolbox; in closing I will leave you with a few warnings. Check you expiration date. Do not keep OC in your car in the summer! It can get very hot and OC is a pressurized container that could burst if it gets heated over 120 F. Have fun cleaning that up. OC is legal in most area but research to be sure you are in compliance with your state laws and city ordinances. Also note that most state and federal installations prohibit the possession of OC spray on their property. Last but not least, OC is a lesser level of force, but is still a use of force. Be sure you have the training to know when it is appropriate to use it, and how to articulate the use of it, just like any other of force. You will be expected to justify OC use to law enforcement, prosecutors and maybe even a jury.
We plan on offering an OC class geared toward civilians soon, so keep an eye on our class calendar. As always, I welcome emails to comment on this article, questions or ideas for future articles. Stay Safe!