July 7, 2023
Written by Craig Cable, Director of Ministry Safety
American Church Group of Colorado
The question about less lethal tools is at the top of the list of most frequent questions I receive. The decision to carry or deploy any of these options must be made with a full understanding of their benefits, limitations, and legal ramifications. I have provided below my perspective on the use of less lethal options such as pepper spray.
Understanding the tool
Pepper spray has its place among the various self-defense tools that are available to law enforcement, security members, and private citizens. When deadly force isn't warranted or it's not an option due to the proximity of the subject or surrounding people, it can be used to discourage behaviors that are putting others at risk.
Pepper spray is concealable, affordable, and can be effective when there is a need for an intermediate-range (10-15 feet) self-defense weapon. The challenge with pepper spray is that it doesn't work the same on everyone, it can be difficult to deploy when the situation has turned physical, and it is non-discriminatory, meaning everyone in proximity can be affected, including the individual deploying it.
Understanding when the tool is warranted
Whenever I am asked a question about the use of pepper spray, I always ask the person to describe a situation when the use of that tool would apply. More often than not, the person I am asking hasn't thought that through. Often in their mind, they're picturing a situation when they may need a subject to stop acting up, and they want to take control of the situation or the individual. Based on my experience and training, the use of pepper spray is likely to cause the opposite effect. The subject may become more combative because pepper spray is causing them to experience pain and respiratory distress. Now the individual may be physically fighting with you while covered in pepper spray, which leaves you both feeling the effects of the chemical agent. If the situation is turning physical, I think my preference would be to have both of my hands free so that I can effectively fight and possibly restrain the individual without pepper spray negatively impacting my abilities to control the subject or defend myself.
Anyone or any organization considering carrying less lethal options such as a chemical agent or even a conducted energy weapon (CEW) such as a Taser, I would strongly encourage them to be very clear on the legal statutes that define the use of force and the local laws that address carrying less lethal weapons. Even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of pepper spray for self-defense, about half of those states have restrictions that may apply. Regardless of the tool, anyone carrying them must receive training on their use and limitations, and all of this must be documented within the organization's policies.
It's important to remember that anyone serving in a security role will rely more on their brains and their ability to communicate over and above any other tool available to them. If your ministry is considering less lethal options, please take the time to help your security team members understand the role they play in protecting people and what level of force is warranted given the various situations they are likely to encounter. It is also important that they receive training in other force options such as verbal de-escalation and self-defense techniques, as well as have the wisdom to know when to call the authorities long before things escalate to the point of needing to use force.
In addition to his role with American Church Group of Colorado, Craig Cable is a sworn peace officer and serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the patrol division at the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. He has trained hundreds of security team leaders and volunteers and was the lead developer of the Safe and Secure & Church: The Ministry Approach training kit produced in partnership with Group Publishing and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.
If you have further questions about protecting your ministry, please feel free to reach out to Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2023 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved. The information in this article is intended to help your ministry better understand issues of vulnerability and mitigate risks. It does not constitute legal advice between an attorney and a client. If specific legal advice is required, your ministry is encouraged to consult with a local attorney. Neither Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, American Church of Colorado, LLC, nor the author assumes liability for reliance upon the information provided in this article.
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