When to Use Batons, Pepper Spray, and Tasers: A Mini-Guide

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In short, the only situation where the use of batons, pepper spray, or tasers is justified is when a police officer can’t carry out his or her duty without being subjected to harm.

I know what you may be thinking; “Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right…”

Well, it’s true. However, this is just my opinion, but allow me to elaborate…

Excessive Force and its Effect on Public Trust in the Police

There are several different court cases where it was decided that the use of batons, pepper spray, and/or tasers by the police constitutes excessive force. One example of this is Vineyard v. Wilson.

The use of excessive force harms the relationship between the police and their community. For police officers, the ability to do a good and effective job is dependent upon a mutually beneficial relationship with the public.

I have great respect for my law enforcement co-workers and the important role we have within our society. Each officer is assigned a duty and within that duty is the authority to use force when necessary. And I want my fellow citizens to trust that we will use that force appropriately.

However, we constantly hear the words “police brutality” echoing throughout media and news outlets. While we cannot rid the world of this sentiment, we can work in a way where legitimate force is used only when necessary.

Note: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use force on the job. It is sometimes unavoidable. But you should always exercise good judgment and be aware of the level of force you are using.

Differing Rules and Regulations Using Batons, Pepper Spray and Tasers

There are many different rules and regulations regarding the use of batons, pepper spray, and tasers. It varies from state to state and some cities are more strict than others.

However, I’ve never heard of instructions stating that you absolutely have to use a baton or pepper spray for certain situations. It’s always optional, which leads me back to my personal opinion:

The only situation where the use of batons, pepper spray, or tasers is justified is when a police officer can’t carry out his or her task without being subjected to harm.

I know many of you will recognize this in your local regulations.

Reasons For This Opinion

As a police officer, your duty is to prevent and stop crimes. You are not a judge and you’re certainly not responsible for administering punishment.

Unfortunately,  some police officers have used these tools as a disciplinary reaction to a person’s negative attitude, bad manners, or adverse behavior. In other words, to “teach them a lesson.”

Well, I’m sorry to say it, but police officers just have to tolerate more crap than a regular citizen has to, so suck it up. After all, it is part of your job. 

The police are currently struggling with a crisis, and as a cop, you can help to better the situation. You are dealing with people every day and their opinion of the police is directly linked to their interaction with you and what actions you take.

The use of excessive force is just one of many things that erodes public trust in the police. By being prudent and conscientious of when to use a baton, pepper spray, or taser, you will help foster public trust in the police, little by little. The fewer scandalous excessive-force cases in the news, the better.

If at all possible, you should use verbal communication – one of the most valuable police officer skills – to solve your tasks.

Examples of When NOT to Use These Tools

  • During peaceful arrests when the suspect is being compliant.
  • Removal of peaceful demonstrators holding onto one another. They aren’t doing any physical harm, they’re just difficult to move.
  • When a suspect is attempting to flee (it’s another matter if the suspect has committed a serious crime).
  • When arresting someone suspected of committing a minor offense, such as stealing candy from a convenience store. Always ask yourself if it truly qualifies getting tasered or hit by a baton…

The examples mentioned above are not absolute and situations vary. The general rule should be that if you can handle a suspect without being harmed, you should not use anything more force than necessary to  make the arrest.

The Decision is Up to You

You are the only one in control of the force you use. Use force when you have to, and be ready to stand accountable for your actions to the media, the public, your supervisor, and your own conscience.

Even if you don’t have anyone to answer to, your actions will be assessed by the one you did it to and the people who saw you do it.Pepper spray, batons, or tasers should only be used as a last resort to prevent harm. So always exercise good judgment and care during your assessments and acts of service!

There are many different views on the subject. Share your thoughts in the comments below!