Riots have long been a part of society and while the motivations behind these public demonstrations may change, the need for riot control will always be present. As rioting has evolved over the years, so too have the techniques used by law enforcement to contain these sometimes violent outbursts.
In recent years, varying types of use of force have come under more and more scrutiny, leaving law enforcement searching for effective ways to prioritize officer safety in conjunction with the safety of suspects in the crowd. City councils in some major metropolitan areas, including Seattle and Minneapolis, are attempting to ban the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and OC, or pepper spray.
One city has succeeded in its efforts, at least temporarily. In Portland, Oregon, a 2020 lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland resulted in a 14-month injunction prohibiting officers from using less-lethal riot control techniques for crowd control.
Of the many arguments made by those opposed to using less-lethal tools for riot control, one reason consistently bubbles to the surface – an officer’s inability to specifically target one violent, or potentially violent, suspect within the crowd.
This has long been a pain point within law enforcement, as their duty to protect those who are demonstrating peacefully becomes difficult when one or two individuals become a threat.
“If a suspect is uncooperative and an officer uses pepper spray on them, typically it cross-contaminates, so people who truly may be just bystanders or just watching are now affected by it,” said Matt Schaefer, a 27-year law enforcement veteran and CEO of Reflex Protect Tactical. “Force has been used on them when they really didn’t do anything.”
PROBLEMS WITH PEPPER SPRAY
More than rubber bullets or flash-bang grenades, police experience uncertainty over pepper spray use in riot control situations. While this tool does have the potential to “punish” individuals who may not be the target of an officer’s actions, there are other issues that are often brought up.
Pepper spray, along with other types of chemical munitions, cannot be used indoors without affecting a large number of people. For example, Schaefer mentions that many were questioning why pepper spray wasn’t used during the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
“Why were the officers not using chemical agents? How come they didn’t spray people? They couldn’t because if they used traditional chemical agents, it would get into the HVAC system and affect the very people that were in the safe room they were trying to protect,” he said.
Even in outdoor settings, the use of pepper spray is sometimes viewed as punitive and, due to the nature of how it works, can result in situations where greater force is used later on.
“Because OC is an inflammatory agent, if you spray a suspect on patrol and after they’re decontaminated and EMS has cleared them, you take them back to jail for booking – let’s say they start acting up again. If you spray them a second time, it doesn’t have the same effect because the skin is still inflamed,” said Schaefer. “The body can only withstand so much, so it’s not as effective and you tend to use more force that second time.”
Instead of feeling limited in their use of OC spray, officers can turn to the Riot Control line of products by Reflex Protect Tactical as a way to suppress agitators safely and effectively in a crowd.
SEVERAL OPTIONS TO MEET OFFICER NEEDS
Many in law enforcement have come to regularly use Presidia Gel, a less-lethal spray that disperses more like a stream than an aerosol. It gives officers the ability to pinpoint a specific target and allows full decon to be achieved in as little as two minutes using Reflex Remove.
Unlike other types of sprays, those made by Reflex Protect Tactical feature a bag on valve system that gives its contents consistent pressure. This prevents the stream from sputtering and reduces the chance of overspray.
The latest iteration of Presidia Gel is the Riot Control line, specifically designed for crowd control situations. Each product uses the same CS formulation as Presidia Gel but allows officers to reach greater distances.
The Mark 9 is available in the same traditional size, and officers who may be enforcing crowd control for longer periods can also opt for the larger Mark 20 version. With the ability to be reloaded in the field, the RP 76 can be refilled endlessly for extended use. The Riot Control line of products can reach up to 40 feet, giving officers the ability to target an individual from a safe distance.
Products in the Riot Control line also feature UV dye in their formulation, so if someone is marked and an arrest isn’t made right then and there, someone on the perimeter can pick them up.
INCREASING SAFETY ALL AROUND
The Riot Control line products are affordable and don’t require much in the way of training, making them a far more cost-effective option compared to other less-lethal tools. But even more important, says Schaefer, is that they allow officers to actually be able to do their jobs.
“We saw so many officers frustrated that they couldn’t deal with one of the lead agitators in a group because they were out of traditional spray range,” he said. “They’re getting things thrown at them and can’t really do much about it. The Riot Control line tools give officers the ability to have controlling force from a distance and it still be a low use of force. We’re improving officer safety and even improving the safety of the suspects – that really changes the game for everybody.”
Visit Reflex Protect Tactical for more information.