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Pepper spray your officers


Yesterday I was at a carnival event near the center of Belo Horizonte, my hometown. The event had a city permit, and so a key avenue was closed for the event to take place.

There were thousands of people there, but as the rain intensified most people left and a couple hundred or so of us or so remained on one end of the avenue.

At this point, a lot of police started showing up, with some of them being equipped for riot control. A friend then went over to ask one of the officers whether they were planning on shutting things down. He said that for the time being they had no intention of doing so, but they probably would at some point.

Then, 30 minutes or so later, a file of officers walked in right in front of us and just started pepper spraying. I was completely in shock. They weren't spraying too liberally, but it was completely crazy to me that there was no warning whatsoever - not a single word was said by any officer. There wasn't a gesture to disperse, there wasn't a call to clear the street, there wasn't a banner. Nothing.

Note that things weren't in any way out of hand either. There wasn't a fight or something that prompted the response. They just got orders to clear the street and that was that.

Now, I feel like just about anyone who was there is qualified to criticize this. But it got to me particularly because I've kind of been on the other side, and that's not how I was taught things should work.

As someone who's also a Finnish national, I had to serve in the Finnish military. There I was an MP (military police), and was trained in riot control.

It's important to note that I served for 9 months was never actually in a situation where the training was put to use. So I certainly do not want to claim that I know what the stress of the job is like, or that I have proper real life experience in dealing with these scenarios.

However, beyond the constant emphasis given to explicit clear warnings prior to any use of force (lethal or non-lethal), I wanted to highlight one particular aspect of our training that I thought was extremely relevant.

Before being given permission to use a pepper spray, the entire company was put into lines, told to keep the eyes wide open, and then pepper sprayed at super close range directly into our eyes. This was the "gel" variation too, which is meant to be extremely effective against a specific target (i.e. painful as fuck and hard to clean) compared to the actual spray meant to be just sprayed into the air to cover a large area.

Another part of this was that we didn't have water available on site. Instead, we had to walk (or run if you managed) around 2km in order to be able to drink water/wash our faces. This simulates a real situation pretty well. It's quite unlikely that people being sprayed at e.g. a football game will immediately have access to water. They probably will want to get away first, grunt in pain for a bit, and then hopefully a friend will help them out in getting some water. That's actually what happened to a friend of ours yesterday. She was hit pretty bad, but none of us had water, so it took a while for us to buy a bottle to help relieve her pain, and she was coughing/crying a good amount in the meanwhile.

Ultimately, this exercise they put us through showed me pretty clearly that while this is a non-lethal weapon, we should aim to not use it as much as possible, given it will be really painful for those on the receiving end. In particular, if the situation is not out of control (sometimes things are completely out of hand and you just have to come in strong for yours safety and that of others), you should at the very least issue a warning (for the record, this was the done in all other situations I've been in that involved the use of force by the police).

Best would be to announce broadly that people should clear out and those that stay will be subject to the use of non-lethal force. But even at the individual level, an officer could simply tell people to back off/disperse before firing. The vast majority of people will not question this and so you don't need to hit them to get your point across - spraying to create a barrier and guide people away would be enough.

Plus, I feel like the lack of warning is likely to be the thing that might get certain people to get violent towards the police. Nothing like that happened yesterday, but there was certainly a lot of cursing towards them. Had people been told to leave, I'm certain they'd have taken no issue with the police's actions.

So yeah, pretty simple stuff. I'd just like the police to follow the "golden rule". And for those that don't do it already, here's a suggestion: consider pepper spraying your officers before sending them out to the street.

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