By Amber Shiflett
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – In a demonstration that made everybody wince, Virginia Commonwealth University students on Tuesday saw VCU Police Department recruits get shot in the face with pepper spray as part of a training exercise.
The exercise, which inflicted what one police officer called “the worst pain ever,” was part of Pepper Spray Day, the finale of the VCU Police Department’s basic academy for new officers. For the first time, the department invited students to attend the annual event. The first 50 students received free pepper spray canisters and personal alarms.
This year, using social media, the department encouraged students and other members of the VCU community to get involved. Connie Davidson, business manager for the VCU Police Department, said getting students involved in events like Pepper Spray Day can be a wonderful learning experience.
“We’re trying harder though social media just to make sure people are aware of these different things so they can come out and watch,” Davidson said. “It is worthwhile for students to actually see this going on because they can get a better understanding of what the recruits go through to become an officer here at VCU.”
VCU student Brian Thompson said the event reassured him that VCU police officers can take control of difficult situations.
“It is nice to know that the police are publicly performing the training. It helps me feel more safe because I know what they have to go through to become officers,” Thompson said. “I know that if they are put in that situation, they will be prepared for it and will be effective in performing their job.”
As part of the pepper spray training exercise, recruits must be able to take down and secure their assailant and call for backup immediately after being shot in the face with pepper spray. Some officers consider the pepper spray exercise to be the most painful experience of their academy training.
VCU Police Officer Jason Wyne got sprayed as a recruit last year.
“It’s probably the worst pain ever. It’s like pure liquid pepper being shot into your face,” Wyne said.
Richmond Airport Police Officer Logan English was one of the 18 recruits who participated in Tuesday’s Pepper Spray Day. This was his sixth time being hit with pepper spray.
“It’s more shocking than anything. It takes your breath away and makes it hard to breathe,” English said.
Pepper spray has a slightly different effect of everyone. The only remedies to the pain are water, air and time.
Tuesday’s event gave students the opportunity to learn more about personal protection. Wyne stressed the importance of knowing how to properly use pepper spray and other personal safety devices.
“You have to self-educate yourself about what this stuff can actually do. You have to understand it can really mess you up, before you deploy it on somebody,” Wyne said. “It is definitely a great self-defense tool, but you have to understand what it can do to somebody.”