New Zealand Police is currently evaluating the potential use of a more concentrated form of OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) pepper spray, aimed at improving staff and public safety.
National Manager Operational Services, Inspector Jason Ross, said the evaluation, which follows a recent trial in the Bay of Plenty Police District, will consider the effectiveness of the more concentrated spray against the current version being used by Police, which has the lowest concentration of capsicum currently available.
Once the evaluation has been completed, a recommendation will be made to the Police executive for consideration. However, Mr Ross said no decisions or recommendations would be made until the proper analysis had been carried out.
The new spray contains approximately six times more capsicum than the current spray, meaning that it has a more effective immediate impact, and takes slightly longer to wear off.
"Since the introduction of OC spray, as its use has become more common, there has been a corresponding levelling off in its effectiveness over time. This is consistent with our own research and what has happened internationally among other Police jurisdictions, the vast majority of whom have already moved to the enhanced spray."
As part of the trial, Mr Ross said Police had tried different spray configurations, including a liquid "stream" spray and a gel version.
"Feedback from staff to date about the new spray has been very positive, but it was important that we trialled different spray configurations in a range of situations and conditions to find the option that was going to work the most effectively to ensure staff and public safety."
From 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013, OC spray was used nationally 1505 times, while the new version of the spray has been deployed 119 times over a seven month period during the separate Bay of Plenty trial.
Mr Ross said monitoring of current OC spray usage indicated that while it was still effective in the significant majority of incidents, there was room for improvement.
The purpose of the trial and the formal evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of the spray as a tactical option that will improve safety and minimise the risk to both Police and the public. While no final decisions have been made, international experience has shown it to be more effective in immediately subduing someone who is being aggressive or violent. That means they are far less likely to go on to hurt themselves, Police or members of the public.
Mr Ross said while any use of force by Police was governed by strict guidelines and was closely monitored, the level of force used was ultimately dictated by the actions of whoever officers are confronted with at the time.
Communication still remains an officer's most powerful tool and is effective in resolving most situations, though there will inevitably be times when the situation necessitates more force being used.
While we have worked hard to ensure the use of tactical options such as OC spray are made as safe as they reasonably can be, any use of force carries some risk and people may react to the spray in different ways.
Officers who use OC spray are trained in its use and effects and receive comprehensive first aid training that involves providing aftercare to anyone who has been sprayed.
Mr Ross said OC spray continued to be an effective and important tactical tool for Police, which had one of the lowest levels of subject injuries from all available tactical options.
Because the new spray worked in the same way as the current spray, depending on the configuration used, there would be little or no change required to current training and tactics.
Mr Ross said the evaluation was expected to be completed before the end of the year.
Police media contact: Ross Henderson, ph 04 470 7316 or 027 703 7329.