New Policy on Pepper Spray in Oregon

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
February 25, 2000 12:00 am

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Eugene, OR — To spray or not to spray? That is the question Eugene police officers will have to ask twice before taking aim with a can of pepper spray, the Register-Guard reported.

According to the Register-Guard, the Eugene Police Department, working with the ACLU of Oregon, has a new policy that defines when, how, and on whom officers may use pepper spray.

Whereas the old policy allowed officers to use pepper spray whenever they reasonably believed it was necessary, the new policy says the spray should be used only on individuals who may harm themselves, officers, or others. Pepper spray may not be used to disperse a crowd, and officers may not spray someone repeatedly.

“I think these are positive and very important changes,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. But Fidanque said that the ACLU is not satisfied. The organization believes that pepper spray has not been fully tested, and wants police to abolish its use altogether.

“It was clear,” he noted, “that we weren’t going to agree on that. I hope the city’s view on pepper spray will evolve over time.”

The police department’s use of pepper spray came under scrutiny after a June 1, 1997 protest. Officers used pepper spray to disperse protesters, who were trying to prevent developers from cutting 40 trees to make way for a housing, retail, and parking complex.

The ACLU had planned to sue the city of Eugene on behalf of four bystanders at the protest. The four claimed that they suffered ill effects from pepper spray, and that police violated their rights to free assembly and free speech. The ACLU has dropped the plan to sue in light of the policy changes.

Eugene Police Captain Thad Buchanan praised the ACLU’s involvement in the development of the new policy, noting, “We sat at the table and worked together. I think it was a good experience for both sides.”

Buchanan added that the ACLU helped by bringing different ideas to the table and offering a different perspective.

“We ended up with a much better policy because of the participation of the ACLU,” he said.

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