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Editorial: UAPD should keep using pepper spray

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
August 25, 1999

The recent death of Tyrone Johnson and injury of Matthew Foley Jr. involving pepper spray have sparked a new interest in the safety of the chemical, which is used by police to subdue suspects when all else fails.

The Tucson Police Department announced on August 17 that they would discontinue the use of sprays that contain oleoresin capsicum, the chemical that allegedly caused Johnson's death on August 8 and Foley's hospitalization on August 16, saying that they would look more deeply into the safety of the spray.

However, the University of Arizona Police Department, as well as the Pima County Sheriff's Office, have decided to continue using pepper spray, citing it as a safer, less violent method of restraining criminals.

"It's better than taking a (baton) and wapping them with it," UAPD Sgt. Michael Smith said earlier this week.

Well put.

Pepper spray has been known to cause problems for people with mental disorders or respiratory ailments such as asthma. It can also cause difficulties for obese people and those who have taken drugs. Both Johnson and Foley had high levels of cocaine in their systems, and both are large - Johnson was 6'5", 250 pounds, and Foley is 6'7", 325 pounds. Although Johnson reportedly told officers that he had asthma after they sprayed him, his family and friends said that in fact, he did not. Clearly, it wasn't just the pepper spray that killed him.

If a suspect is fleeing the scene, police currently have no other way of apprehending the criminal. If pepper spray ceases to be an option, police will have no choice but to resort to more violent methods.

While the spray may not be completely safe for all people, it is, for now, the best thing available. TPD discontinued its use of the spray until more research could be done, leaving them with few or no options when it comes to apprehending a suspect who just won't cooperate.

UAPD was correct to continue its use of pepper spray. The two recent incidents have less to do with pepper spray than they do with drugs and the undeniable fact that a criminal act was committed.

More research is a good idea, but for the time being, officers need something to use that is non-violent when suspects won't respond to verbal commands. It is hard to say how many suspects in the next few months will undergo assaults by police, or how many police officers will be injured by suspects without pepper spray as a preventative measure. While pepper spray may in the future prove to be dangerous, for now, it's most certainly better than "wapping" them with a baton.

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