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West Ventura County Focus

Harbr Patrol May Adopt Use of Pepper Spray

August 19, 1993|JULIE FIELDS

The Ventura Harbor Patrol, which cites speeding boaters and renegade jet skiers, is considering joining police across the county in using a fiery cayenne pepper-based spray to stop would-be attackers.

Assistant Harbor Master Scott Miller said oleoresin capsicum, known as "OC" or "pepper spray," would be used by harbor deputies only as a last resort to defend themselves.

Earlier this year, police in Oxnard, Ventura and Simi Valley along with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department adopted the spray as a way to subdue suspects and avoid using deadly force.

Miller acknowledged that violent confrontations at the harbor are rare, but he said deputies have occasionally run into belligerent boaters and fishermen.

"We don't carry guns. We don't carry batons. And we want to provide something for our officers' safety," said Miller, who will make a recommendation to the harbor master and the general manager of the harbor.

Harbor Crewman Bob Wallen added: "I've had people come at me with hammers and crescent wrenches. If they're stressed out, the uniform is something they don't want to see."

The patrol's 11 deputy harbor masters were trained to use the spray last month, but Miller said he still had questions about its effectiveness at the windy harbor.

So on Wednesday, Miller volunteered to be the guinea pig and took three long hits of the pepper spray during a mock scuffle with another deputy on a harbor dock.

"Not impressed," he said after the first close-range shot, his face covered with a fine, orange dust. "I can still see you."

But 30 seconds later, and after two more shots, Miller was doubled over at a water hose rubbing his burning eyes. "I can't keep them open at all," he said.

After the spray's effects had worn off, Miller said the only thing that surprised him was the 30-second delay before his face started burning.

Miller said he will make his recommendation to the port commissioners after reviewing videotapes of the demonstration and talking with deputies.

Pepper spray has proved popular with police departments across the country because, unlike Mace, it is effective in subduing suspects on drugs who are oblivious to pain from other means of force.

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