Researchers who've investigated the way that "nonlethal" weapons like pepper spray and tasers affect policing weigh in on the epidemic of callous and brutal police attacks on protesters. They conclude that the effect of giving police an "intermediate force" option isn't a reduction in lethal force, but rather to escalate situations where police might have negotiated with citizens into situations where those citizens are shocked or sprayed.
That the number of times police used force seemed disconnected from threats to public order led Friday and Lumb to hypothesize that having pepper spray could change how officers behaved.
"Do officers become more assertive in suspect confrontational situations when they are 'armed' with an additional tool? Does the possession of OC spray unreasonably increase the sense of self-confidence and security and thereby create a self-fulfilling prophecy of threat?" they wondered. "While OC spray, when used, reduced injuries, does its mere possession increase the potential for physical force being used?"
Two studies conducted in the Netherlands showed that pepper spray was useful for subduing violent subjects, but actually caused non-violent situations to escalate into violence — and about 10 percent of all uses were carried out against non-threatening subjects.