U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Pepper Spray: A Safe and Reasonable Response to Suspect Verbal Resistance

NCJ Number
Policing Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Dated: 2000 Pages: 233-245
Date Published
13 pages

This paper examines pepper spray as a safe and reasonable response to suspect oral resistance.


The paper explores the debate over the safety and efficacy of police use of force tactics in general, and pepper spray in particular; introduces the force continua, checklists used by U.S. police forces to prescribe levels of force in particular situations; reviews the literature; and discusses two recent studies and the legal and ethical issues involved. The studies review police use of force and the implications for the use of pepper spray and its placement in the use of force continuum. The police use of force continuum includes: (1) no force; (2) officers’ presence in uniform; (3) oral communication; (4) chemical agents; (5) light subject control, escort techniques, pressure point control, handcuffs; (6) physical tactics and use of weapons other than chemicals and firearms; and (7) firearms/deadly force. One way to improve the level of knowledge concerning the effectiveness of use of study tactics is to examine how use of force encounters unfold (in what sequential order various use of force tactics are used), how officers perceive the effectiveness of various use of force tactics and weapons, whether the tactics and weapons used by officers cause injury to themselves or to suspects, and which suspect, officer and environmental variables help predict effectiveness. Tables, notes, references

Date Published: January 1, 2000