By MYLO ERICKSON
Eyes forced close due to extreme burning, feeling off balance, coughing uncontrollably with every breath.
This was the experience of some Pima Community College students who elected to be pepper sprayed as a part of their Defensive Tactics for Law Enforcement class.
“It felt like someone threw me in a campfire, like my face was sitting in the campfire,” student Leif Brestel said.
Roger Early has been teaching the Administration of Justice Systems, or AJS, 150 class at East Campus for 15 years. He is also an Arizona Post Defense Tactics Instructor, and retired from the PCC police force in 2006.
The course covers verbal and physical skills used to subdue a threat, while limiting injuries. It also covers the proper use of the weapons accessible to officers.
A recent class began with students filing into a classroom in the Clements Recreation Center on East Campus.
There seemed to be excitement in the air, along with some tension.
“How many people can say they’re taking three credits at Pima and getting pepper sprayed,” crime scene management major Scott Hubbard asked.
Early started his lecture with the history of pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum or O.C.
Japanese ninjas essentially tossed oleoresin capsicum into the air around their enemies. Later, during Japan’s Tukagawa era, police used what was called a “Mitsubishi box.” The device allowed police to blow O.C. into a target’s face.
The United States didn’t start using pepper spray until the 1970s, when the U.S. Postal Service used it to fend off bear attacks.
In the ‘80s, scientists studied its use on people and deemed it an acceptable non-lethal weapon. In the ‘90s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation endorsed it as an effective crowd deterrent and its popularity grew from there.
Early also talked about pepper spray ingredients and their effects on people, mentioning both pros and cons to its use.
He began preparing the students to be hosed by talking about the many different types of spray. There are three ways it projects: cone, line and gel. The cone covers a wide area, the line is just a stream and the gel sticks to the target.
Early informed the class that the effects could last up to 45 minutes.
With police officers standing by, six student volunteers took turns getting sprayed in the face with a solvent of their choosing.
The six volunteers were Brett Trigloff, Freddy Gutierrez, Brestel, Trevor Martin, Hubbard and Dylan Reichardt.
The student volunteers portrayed officers sprayed in the line of duty, eventually fending off fellow students pretending to be a perpetrator.
The objective was for the officers to keep the assailants from grabbing their gun while controlling the situation and calling for backup.
Most failed their first time being sprayed, and most didn’t know what to expect as far as the burning was concerned.
Early had buckets of water and hoses ready for the volunteers once they were incapable of going any further with their objective. A classmate led them to the hoses and buckets to wash off and try to calm down.
“It was a big eye-opener, literally, then a big eye-closer once that pepper spray sunk in,” Martin said. “Your breathing stops, your sight is non-existent and your face is on fire.”
Trigloff, the first to be sprayed, took the longest— roughly 45 minutes— to recover.
Reichardt, the last to get sprayed and only by the gel, had the shortest recovery time, taking about 10 to 15 minutes.
“If you ever have the offer to be pepper sprayed, please I encourage you, politely decline,” Martin said.
Brestel said, “I’d do it again.”
The students said they enjoyed the experience and the knowledge it gives them, and like the way Early presents topics.
“I’ve learned so much in this class, it’s just a great class,” Hubbard said. “It’s given me the push into a career path with law enforcement.”
Pepper spray use grabbing headlines
Pepper spray has been in the news, with a shopper using it to secure an Xbox and campus police spraying non-violent student protestors at the University of California-Davis.
PCC instructor Roger Early said the Black Friday shopping incident was “just someone not thinking straight and crazed with all the shopping.”
Early examined the college incident in California from two different angles, an officer’s viewpoint and a political viewpoint.
“As an officer you have to look at it, is it a crime that they are committing? If it is, then you can act on that without different groups telling you if you should or shouldn’t,” Early said.
“Politically, it didn’t seem to be the best move on the part of the college police as colleges are a little more lenient if not encouraging to protests, so it doesn’t look good to spray idle students.”