On Monday morning, having working a 12-hour graveyard shift on patrol, I got to particpate in one of the new rites of passage for MPs and police officers around the country. That’s right, it’s time for…..Fun with Pepper Spray! Yaaaaaay!!
To be perfectly honest, pepper spray is not terribly much fun, unless you are the one doing the spraying. On the morning in question, we would not get to experience that delight, even though we were the ones getting certified in it’s use. You see, in a particularly sadistic twist, in order to be allowed to carry and use pepper spray, one has to experience the privilege of getting a full dose sprayed directly into your face.
Which is why you may detect a certain uneasiness in the faces of the victims–uh, soldiers in the picture below.
Yep, that’s yours truly, second from the left, showing off his new celtic tattoo in a vain attempt to intimidate the cackling hordes that had gathered to laugh at the new guys. My fellow victims, from left to right, are Specialist Mazzone (one of my soldiers, i.e. I’m his team leader), SPC McCain, and SPC Contessa. Good guys, all of them–all veterans of combat tours in Iraq; in fact McCain was there at exactly the same time I was, only on the other side of the Euphrates. None of us are looking forward to the ‘certification’, a fact that was not improved by the horror stories that our buddies had been regaling us with for the previous hour of past certifications.
I don’t know what it is about soldiers and the military, but any event that has the slightest amount of discomfort or pain instantly gets inflated and exagerated, and then told to people that haven’t experienced it, complete with wide eyes and graphic depictions. This was no exception. We heard about guys that panicked and freaked out, requiring ambulances to be called. We heard about civilian cops that quit on the spot after watching their buddies go through it. We heard about migraine headaches and hours that stretched into days with acidic burning and projectile vomiting. We heard about a myriad of techniques used to beat the pepper spray, involving vaseline smeared faces and milk baths, none of which anyone had actually tried, but all of which were supposed to work marvelously.
Naturally, I was all out of vaseline and buttermilk. I never was a very good boy scout.
The horror stories continued all through the classroom instruction, and the little video they showed us about the nasty goop. Through the legendary gore, I actually did learn a little. Turns out that pepper spray is really called OC spray, short for oleoresin capsicum, or in English, simply ‘oily resin of the cayenne pepper’. Police OC spray comes in a 5 to 10% mix, and it’s heat level is measured in S.H.U’s, or Scoville Heat Units. The strength of police OC spray is between 500,000 to 2 million SHU’s.
In an admirable display of professional care for our adequate instruction, the department had procured 10% OC for us, at the full 2 million SHU’s. Oh, joy.
Turns out that they did not simply want to hose us down, but that we would actually be required to do something after getting zapped with the stuff. After standing still and taking the spray directly to the face and eyes, we were expected to retrieve a training pistol from the ground, cover a suspect, and then take him to the ground and handcuff him. Only then would we be allowed to seek relief from our cohorts. Said relief was pretty straightforward–a big trashcan full of cold water, and some paper towels.
Oh, there is an antidote spray available, and we even had some on hand in the police station. That’s reserved for the bad guys. Wouldn’t want that violent criminal to turn around and sue the department, now would we? In any case, soldiers don’t rate the good stuff :)
Like any good NCO, I volunteered to go first <sucker>. Have to set the right example for the troops, especially when one of your soldiers is with you.
Here I am, a second after getting sprayed in the face by one of our civilian police Lieutenants, LT Seijo. Note the red stain of the pepper spray–it sticks very well to skin, and burns instantly. The red effect also helps to identify perps after they’ve been sprayed, in the unlikely event that they initially get away. Trust me, your initial reaction is to drop to the ground and to start clawing your eyeballs out. I was pretty happy to stay on my feet at this point.
At this point I’ve retrieved the training pistol, and am advancing on my subject, ordering him to get on the ground in my best SRT command voice. I kept blinking in order to keep my bearings and target acquistion on him, and with every blink, the burning effect increased exponentially.
Now I’ve taken down the subject, SGT Thomas, one of our MPs, who ‘volunteered’ to be the bad guy. By the time I had the first cuff on, the spray was working pretty well in my eyes. I didn’t want to let on, though, and also wanted to assuage some of the soldier’s concerns, so I looked up and said “This stuff ain’t shit. Hit me again!” Which caused SGT Thomas to yell ‘No, no! You’ll hit me!” just in case LT Seijo took me up on my offer!
And this is what we did for the following hour or so. Turns out that water is NOT the best thing to dilute pepper spray with, since the water reactivates the OC. It actually gets considerably worse while you are trying to clean the stuff off. I was able to force my eyes open about 15 or 20 minutes after getting zapped, and it kept getting gradually better after that. The OC reacts strongly with any mucus membranes, so, along with the eyes; your nose, mouth and lips are the parts that really burn.
To be honest, Contessa (on my left) seemed to get the worst of it. While I was splashing water in my face, I kept hearing this pitiful moaning to my side. I finally said, “Whoever keeps moaning like a bitch, please, for God’s sake, shut up!” I got a muffled ‘Fuck you’ back, and realized it was Contessa. Like I said, he’s a good troop, and that’s exactly the response I would expect from a combat vet. I got a good chuckle out of it. After we were all done, I checked him out, and the poor guy was red over his entire head, and his eyes were almost completely swollen shut. LT Seijo told us that we all handled the certification better than any previous group, which made us all feel pretty good about the whole thing.
Turns out that some people are more sensitive to OC than others, and apparently people that like spicy food generally have a better tolerance to the stuff. So, Dad, thanks again for all of those spicy nachos you used to make for us in New Mexico!
So, that’s pepper spray certification for you. Anyone who wants to be an MP or a Police Officer on a department that uses the stuff, this is what you have to look forward to. Honestly, it’s not too bad, but it is no walk in the park, either. CS or CN, the original tear gas, is absolutely nothing compared to this stuff. And getting hit with it on the streets, with nothing to dilute it with–well, that just isn’t a pleasant thought. You might want to think twice about bitching out that meter maid next time!