Repellent is one part of attack defense

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Mike DuPre'
November 13, 2007
— The difference was dramatic.

On one side of the split screen, a big, burly police officer crumpled to the ground within three seconds of being shocked with a Taser during training.

On the other side, a big, burly police officer was shot with pepper spray and went on to beat the shields of his colleagues with a baton for more than half a minute with no sign of stopping.

Cops legally use both of the non-lethal weapons as well as expandable batons.

If you’re not a cop, you are barred by law from owning a Taser, any other electric weapon, an expandable baton or brass knuckles. So if you want to carry a non-lethal weapon to protect yourself, you are limited to pepper spray.

That’s if you’re 18 or older, not a convicted felon and use pepper spray purely to defend yourself or your property. Adults in Wisconsin may legally own and use pepper spray—technically oleoresin of capsicum, or OC—if its concentration is 10 percent or less.

Tear gas or other tear-gas products remain illegal.

Effectiveness varies

Remember the training video: Attackers can fight through a faceful of pepper spray because it doesn’t affect everyone the same way.

“OC is not a 100 percent solution,” said Lt. Tim Hiers, a training officer with the Janesville Police Department. “It’s effective on most people, but there’s a small percentage it doesn’t act on.

“And it affects people to varying degrees. Just because someone is sprayed in the face with OC doesn’t mean it will stop their assaultive behavior.”

From his own experience, Hiers recalled a petite woman persisting in resisting arrest after being sprayed while a large man immediately went down in a heap.

The capsicum in pepper spray is a blend of peppers and comes in three forms: foam, fog and stream, Hiers explained.

“We suggest the stream because it shoots the farthest,” said Sgt. Brian Donohoue, a Janesville officer who teaches a monthly self-defense class for women.

In most cases, being sprayed with OC will result in pain and involuntary closing of the eyes, burning of the skin, trouble breathing and continual sinus draining.

Symptoms typically last 45 minutes without any permanent health problems, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Donohoue recommends buying pepper spray in a 10 percent concentration—the same strength that police officers carry and maximum allowed in Wisconsin—because it’s more effective than sprays with less capsicum in the mix.

The Janesville Gazette bought a pepper spray with a 2 percent concentration at a local department store for a little more than $10.

“You can buy 10 percent for under $20,” Donohoue said. “It’s an effective and cheap option for self-protection.”

After you spray

If you must use pepper spray, your next step should be in the opposite direction, followed by many more running steps, Donohoue said.

In most cases, pepper spray will startle and temporarily disable an attacker.

“Even though someone can fight through the pain and tears, it still gives victims a chance to escape,” Hiers said.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

You shouldn’t try to apprehend or detain the assailant until you can call police, the cops said.

Because pepper spray’s effects linger, cops often can find the sniffling, red-eyed attacker after you’ve escaped and called the police, Hiers said.

Keeping distance between you and an assailant is crucial, Donohue said.

That’s why he doesn’t recommend trying to strike an approaching attacker—even with a fistful of keys.

“If you’re willing to use keys, you’re too close,” he said. “Keep your distance.”

Donohoue recommended taking a basic self-defense class, whether it’s the SAFE class offered monthly by Janesville police and Mercy Health System or a different course.


And if you’re going to buy pepper spray, you should practice using it, Donohoue said.

Hiers noted that police officers take a preliminary four-hour OC course and four-hour refresher courses every two years.

“We recommend buying two canisters,” Donohoue said. “Take one outside and practice to see how it comes out and how far it shoots.”

Pepper spray sold in Wisconsin must have an effective range of 6 to 20 feet. Donohue recommended products that have a 15-foot range.

He also noted that pepper spray is effective at deterring aggressive dogs.

A common mistake in using OC spray is over-spraying, Hiers said. “You only need a one- or two-second burst to be effective. Over-spraying could dilute the amount being delivered.”

And Donohoue recommended replacing pepper spray every two years to be sure what you have is still potent.

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