City and Police Clash Over Pepper Spray
May Chow, Daily Californian, August 12, 1997
Despite recommendations from independent police watchdog groups to abolish peper spray, police captains and some Berkelev residents continue to defend its use.
The Pepper Spray Task Force was started last fall by the Berkeley City Council as a response to increasing public concern over the use of pepper spray. Comprised of eight representatives from various council commissions, the task force studied the effects of pepper spray and released an 11-page report in late July recommending that the Berkeley City Council ban the use of the chemical propellant.
The report detailed pepper spray's medical consequences, effects on health, use by the BPD and liability for use. After reviewmg the report, the Police Review Commission, an independent watchdog group for the BPD, and the Peace and Justice Commission voted unanimously on July 23 to endorse the task force's recommendation for a moratorium on pepper spray use.
But UCPD Capt. Bill Cooper said he feels that pepper spray is a necessary and effective tool for the police to have in certain situations. "It is necessary for the police to have (pepper spray):' Cooper said. "It provides a viable tool for the officer confronting a combative person and is less forceful that a baton."
Police use of pepper spray received wide spread attention after the UCPD used pepper spray on affirmative action demonstrators in Sproul Hall on April 28. Although the UCPD has its own police review board, the PRC wrote a letter to former UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien urging the UCPD to terminate its use of pepper spray in crowd situations.
Despite public criticism of the BPD use of pepper spray, the department still supports its use. According to BPD Chief Dash Butter, it is not a question of whether or not the Department is against its use, but rather which department has more interest in using it. "Officers on patrol have more interest:' Butler said. "If an officer gets into a potentially violent struggle, he or she needs pepper spray”
Attorney Susie Luten, a former task force member, criticized the methods of the task force. She said she believes that pepper spray offers a less dangerous and harmful method of police interaction than guns or batons. "The majority (of the task force) didn't ask questions," said Luten, a representative of the Commission on the Status of Women. "They just say that it caused deaths. They didn't compare if the deaths were more or less than baton deaths."
Pepper spray contains the chemical ingredient oleoresin capsicum, a derivative of capsicum pepper plants. According to the task force's report, when humans come in contact with the spray, it causes immense eye irritation and various respiratory problems.
The council is scheduled to vote on the use of pepper spray on September 9, its first meeting after the summer break. If passed, the ban would call for an immediate cessation on the use of pepper spray by the BPD.
As for civilians, the task force is recommending that the council repeal Assembly Bill 830, which allows civilians to buy over-thecounter pepper spray, until further information regarding the spray's use, safety and reliability is available.