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In Tampa, site of the 2012 RNC, police policy bars pepper spray to disperse crowds

Occupy University of California, Davis protesters including David Buscho, left, react after being pepper sprayed by police who came to remove tents set up on the school’s quad Friday. » See video from UC Davis at links.tampabay.com.

Associated Press

Occupy University of California, Davis protesters including David Buscho, left, react after being pepper sprayed by police who came to remove tents set up on the school’s quad Friday. » See video from UC Davis at links.tampabay.com.

A uniformed police officer. A row of crouched students, refusing to surrender their ground. Pepper spray.

The incident at the University of California, Davis over the weekend has sparked outrage and protests. Two campus officers and the police chief were put on administrative leave.

But it wouldn't happen in Tampa under a police policy that strictly forbids the use of pepper spray in crowd control.

In Tampa, site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, pepper spray is used by police only as a defensive weapon.

Pepper spray "shall not be used to disperse or control crowds," one of only two specific prohibitions in the policy.

Police officers who use the spray must immediately handcuff the individual to "prevent harm or further contamination" and make sure the person is "constantly monitored" for an hour so medical assistance can be provided immediately if necessary, the policy states.

Other Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies have policies that dictate when and how officers may use pepper spray. All classify pepper spray as "nondeadly force" and offer alternative tactics. But all except for Tampa would allow the use of pepper spray to control a resistant or hostile crowd.

With the Republican National Convention less than 10 months away, Tampa police officials are reviewing and reiterating all of their policies to ensure they are followed, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Pepper spray, a chemical compound that can cause pain, tissue damage, respiratory problems and even temporary blindness, should be considered an option to repel an attack, the policy states.

Even then, the use of physical force and "impact weapons," such as a baton, flashlight or beanbag launched as a projectile, are preferable.

"As with any use of force, the indiscriminate use of (pepper spray) is expressly forbidden," the policy states. Using pepper spray "is a serious matter because it inflicts substantial, but temporary, pain upon a subject."

Tampa police, who have arrested more than a dozen members of the Occupy Tampa movement since the demonstrations began in September, declined to comment on the actions taken by UC Davis police.

St. Petersburg police recommend using pepper spray before an extendable metal baton.

"A lot of it depends on the circumstances," spokesman Mike Puetz said. "But there's nothing prohibiting us from using it in a crowd situation."

Puetz said if an officer felt threatened in a crowd of people, the spray would likely be his or her first resort.

"I think in a situation when an officer may be surrounded or cornered, which is a crowd control issue or a self-defense issue, you might use that spray to back the crowd off," he said.

St. Petersburg police also declined to comment on Friday's events in California.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office allows its deputies to use the spray in response to any type of "active resistance," such as bracing, tensing, pushing, pulling or otherwise physically resisting a deputy.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office policies are slightly more explicit: Pepper spray, it states, is "defensive in nature, and used only in self-defense."

In Tampa, site of the 2012 RNC, police policy bars pepper spray to disperse crowds 11/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 21, 2011 8:32pm]
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