force continuum at the chemical level

force continuum at the chemical level
August 6, 2015 vishal saurav

For as long as humans have walked this earth, there has been an inherent need for someone to keep peace and make decisions about justice. Along with the trials and tribulations of keeping peace and justice comes an awesome responsibility of using force to maintain that balance. Law enforcement officers are faced with performing duties during sometimes violent and life threatening situations and having only moments to decide if using force is necessary and what level of force should be administered.

For years, law enforcement officers had a limited number of choices when apprehending suspects who exhibited violent behavior for reasons such as drug and alcohol abuse and even mental illnesses. During this time, both the officer and the subject were very likely to become injured due to the lack of alternative measures available to safely control a combative subject. With the increased interest by researchers and law enforcement management, police use of force has quickly become a topic of interest.

Law enforcement, with an increased trend toward better training and more professionalism, has begun to follow a force continuum. The continuum presents officers with a series of escalating steps in the use of force that they are required to follow whenever possible (Smith & Alpert, 2000). The force continuum is presented ranging from a lesser degree of force escalating to deadly force. However, police training and general orders of various agencies specify that if a deadly confrontation suddenly presents itself, the officer is not required to use every step of the continuum before resorting to deadly force. The force continuum is based solely on the suspect’s behavior.

The officer may move up or down the continuum, skipping several levels if the situation dictates a certain response.

The primary focus of the force continuum will be at the chemical level for purposes of this research. For years, police officers have used chemical agents such as choloracetophenone (CN) and cholorbenzylidene malononitrile (CS) when restraining combative and resistive subjects (Friend, 1995). These chemical agents were found to be ineffective and depended greatly, but not entirely, on distance and temperature. Problems associated with decontamination arose from the use of CN and CS once the agents had been deployed.

Presently, law enforcement agencies choose oleoresin capsicum (OC), more commonly known as pepper spray, as the chemical agent to be carried and used in the line of duty. Oleoresin capsicum, considered an inflammatory agent, is derived from the cayenne pepper plant. Oleoresin capsicum is an organic with an oily resin consistency that enables the product to adhere to surfaces it is sprayed on to (Concepts and Issues Paper, 1995). Some companies that manufacture pepper spray also add an ultraviolet chemical that aids in the apprehension of a fleeing subject after the subject has been sprayed. The subject will emit a “glow” next to an ultraviolet light.

The total effectiveness of OC is not determined by temperature or distance but relies greatly on the inflammatory properties. These properties cause OC to be more effective than the previously used CN and CS on violent, intoxicated, drugged, and mentally ill individuals (Edwards, Granfield, & Onnen, 1997). It is also believed that pepper spray is effective on aggressive animals that police officers encounter while carrying out their duties.

Decontamination from the use of oleoresin capsicum has not posed a problem for law enforcement, unlike with the deployment of CN and CS. The use of oleoresin capsicum does not result in permanent dermatitis, skin depigmentation, or burns (Edwards et al., 1997). Today in law enforcement, pepper spray has become a common tool for officers using force for intermediate situations and has become an alternative to the baton and the use of hands and feet (Friend, 1995).

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