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Custody Notification

If an exposed suspect is taken into custody, custodial officers should be notified of the person’s exposure to a chemical agent.

A suspect who has been exposed should be, if permitted by policy, handcuffed behind the back, reassured repeatedly that they are safe and told that if they stop resisting, they will get help in a short period of time. Many suspects are so shocked by the painful experience that they begin to panic. This is why verbalization that they will be fine and will get treatment is so important.

After the subject has been secured, some security and police departments read information about pepper spray aloud from an administrative warning card. The information on this card tells subjects:

  • They have been sprayed with pepper spray,
  • What kind of pain they are likely experiencing,
  • That the pain is common after being sprayed,
  • That they will get treatment only if they cooperate, and
  • That the de-contamination process cannot and will not begin until they stop being combative.

This card also asks subjects if they have any medical conditions or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Officers should ensure that the subject is effectively secured, then watch the subject closely and move him or her to a secure facility for treatment as soon as possible.

The primary focus after deployment of the spray is to handcuff the person and prevent any escalation of violence. Once that occurs, the immediate focus must be to establish that the subject is breathing effectively. If there is any doubt that the subject is reacting adversely, or if the subject asks for help, the officer should call an ambulance right away to take the subject to an emergency room.

Response to Exposure

Each person may have a different response or reaction when exposed to a chemical agent. The same person may react differently on different occasions depending on the conditions.

Reactions can vary depending on the suspect’s:

  • Physical condition,
  • Psychological makeup,
  • Degree of exposure to the agent, and
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.

Symptoms of being sprayed

When effectively sprayed with pepper spray, most victims may experience any of the following physiological effects:

  • Immediately succumb to its effects and are incapacitated,
  • Involuntarily close their eyes,
  • Feel a burning sensation in their eyes, nose, mouth, and on exposed skin,
  • Have difficulty breathing if the spray was inhaled because the throat and lungs constrict, and
  • Experience immediate and involuntary coughing, retching, gagging, and the perception of shortness of breath.

A person may also experience any of the following psychological effects:

  • Disorientation,
  • Anxiety,
  • Panic, and

Recovery Time

Normally, a person who has been exposed to pepper spray will experience considerable discomfort for a short period of time, and then begin to recover. Complete recovery usually takes place within 45 to 60 minutes.

Persons exposed to pepper spray should be monitored during the recovery period. If the effects do not begin to diminish in a reasonable amount of time or if symptoms appear to indicate the person is having an unusual response (e.g., difficulty in breathing, unconsciousness, vomiting), further medical attention should be sought.

Note: Officers should be completely familiar with company policy regarding positional asphyxiation. It may be necessary to lay the suspect on their side to prevent them from suffocating.