Police policy: It’s OK if threat’s ‘imminent,’ not in nonviolent protests
From The Charlotte Observer of November 25, 2011 By Tim Funk
If Charlotte-Mecklenburg police follow their rules, they won’t resort to pepper spray if confronted with nonviolent protesters at next year’s Democratic National Convention.
CMPD “directives,” or rules that guide police behavior, also say that OC spray – short for oleoresin capsicum, the formal name for pepper spray – should not be used unless there’s “an imminent threat” to the officer or to someone’s safety.
When police should and should not use this aerosol irritant, which can cause temporary blindness, coughing and a restriction in breathing, has become the subject of national debate with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement – and law enforcement’s reaction to it.
Police in New York, Denver, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have been widely criticized for trying to control Occupy crowds by using the spray, which gets its power from an inflammatory agent found naturally in cayenne and many other kinds of pepper.
But the incident that caused the most outrage – and disciplinary action against the officers involved – happened Nov. 18 on the campus of the University of California-Davis. As captured on video now watched by millions on the Internet, campus police Lt. John Pike doused a group of Occupy protesters – all of them seated, with arms linked – with a bright orange pepper spray compound.
In Charlotte, City Council member Patrick Cannon, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he had two reactions when he saw the video: Disbelief at what he was watching, and relief that, if the rules are followed, it won’t happen in Charlotte.
“Our policy is written as such that we do not deploy (pepper spray) on passive demonstrators,” said Cannon, a Democrat.
But what does “passive” mean?
CMPD Capt. Jeff Estes said the directives would also prohibit spraying demonstrators even if they refused, nonviolently, to follow orders to disperse.
Their refusal would have to include “violence or riotous behavior,” Estes said. Anything short of that “would be a trespassing issue” that would not call for using pepper spray, he said.
When 35,000 people – including protesters – converge on Charlotte next September for the convention, a host of police officers from other cities’ forces will also be in town to assist CMPD.
All of these guest officers “will be bound by all the rules of engagement and use of force” that govern the CMPD, Estes said.
Any chance that those rules will be changed before the Democrats meet?
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police wouldn’t comment, but it’s doubtful, given all the legal ramifications.
Along with all the delegates and protesters in town for the convention, there will be up to 15,000 representatives of the news media, who could quickly turn any local police misconduct into an international story with a Charlotte dateline.
Also keeping an eye on police treatment of protesters next year will be the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We’re going to be watching very closely to make sure the First Amendment rights of protesters are protected,” said Mike Meno, spokesman for ACLU in North Carolina.
Police in Tampa – site of the Republican National Convention – will also get closer-than-normal scrutiny as protesters gather and march.
Tampa police policy on use of pepper spray is similar to CMPD’s. There, police can spray demonstrators only as a defensive weapon.
Pepper spray, the Tampa policy says, “shall not be used to disperse or control crowds.”
Developed into weapons-grade material by the FBI in the 1980s, pepper spray is now widely used by hikers to deter bears and women to foil would-be attackers.
But it’s police use of the spray that has provoked the most comment – some of it satirical.
After the UC-David video of Lt. Pike spraying the protesters went viral, many created their own digital versions, with “Pike,” for example, spraying the stone face of Thomas Jefferson atop Mount Rushmore.
“This is a new generation of subduing people,” Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University told The New York Times. “And while the decision to use it may not be right, we are in the age of pepper spray, not the age of bullets.”
In 2008, police at both national political conventions – in St. Paul, Minn., and Denver, Colo. – used pepper spray, according to news reports.
During the GOP convention in St. Paul, CNN reported, police arrested 283 people after firing projectiles, pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd demonstrating near the convention site.
And in Denver, where the Democrats met, a Jefferson County, Colo., deputy unleashed pepper spray on the first night of the convention, the Denver Post reported. Only later did the deputy discover that the “protesters” he was spraying were actually undercover Denver police officers. The New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times contributed.
CMPD: When to Use – and Not Use – Pepper Spray
Friday, Nov. 25, 2011
Here’s what CMPD directives say about the use of pepper spray, also called OC spray.
“The use of OC spray or any other physical force will not be immediately deployed where a person or a group of persons are participating in a passive, nonviolent protest unless there is an imminent threat to the officer or another person’s safety.”
“OC spray will normally be used when the officer is confronted with defensive resistance, (including when) the use is a reasonably necessary progressive step in the use of force to effect the arrest, to secure an arrestee, or to provide for the safety of the officer or others; and physical restraint of person is not reasonable to bring the person under control without risk of injury to the person or the officer.”
“OC spray may be used to discourage an attack by an animal.”