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OC vapor: Another tool in the corrections toolbox

Non-flammable OC vapor is designed to primarily affect a person’s respiratory system

Police supply manufactures and vendors are constantly trying to market new and different force option equipment to correctional agencies. These new or improved items frequently fail to live up to their hype as department officials are forced to continue to use those basic “go to” tools that have proven to be effective. Occasionally however, products emerge that are well-designed and well-thought out and have very useful and specific applications within the field of corrections. One such item to recently emerge is OC (oleoresin capsicum) vapor.

Unlike other OC delivery methods such as liquid, foam, or gel that are primarily used for direct application to achieve burning of the face and eyes, the non-flammable vapor is designed to primarily affect a person’s respiratory system. Specifically, it temporarily impacts an individual’s ability to take deep breaths without coughing.

The desired result occurs when, in an effort to obtain fresh air, the inmate voluntarily complies with efforts to remove him/her from the cell. And because OC does not displace oxygen, it has been shown to be safe when used in confined spaces.

Quicker Recovery
Clearly the first goal with any potential cell removal situation is to avoid the use of force if possible. The second goal is often to avoid the use of a dynamic style team entry that may increase the likelihood of injury to staff and offenders. Those that have used and tested the vapor have reported that the introduction of vapor into a cell or area may prove to be the catalyst in achieving both of those goals.

Those exposed to OC vapor can begin to see the lessoning of the exposure symptoms within minutes, or even seconds, of leaving the impacted area. This is remarkable when compared to the 30 to 60 minutes of recovery time that’s often associated with direct exposure to liquid, gel or foam delivery methods. Simply put, moving the exposed individual to fresh air almost immediately reverses the effect of the chemical agent.

It’s important to emphasize that the vapor is best used to contaminate confined spaces. And while it will cause some burning and irritation when directly applied, it is was not found to be as effective for gaining compliance through direct contact exposure. The true value of the vapor delivery system seems to be in its impact on the subject’s respiratory system that compels individuals to leave an area seeking fresh air.

Cross Contamination
The only real potential drawback to using the OC vapor is the high cross-contamination rate. Because the vapor is so light, it tends to travel easily through spaces that may be an escape route for air such as under doors or through ventilation systems. Those facilities with an air vacuum or smoke removal system would benefit by utilizing that technology to reduce the span of cross contamination.

At the very least it’s recommended by some who have tested the vapor products to remove inmates in immediately adjacent cells and/or turn off air handling systems prior to vapor use. The good news is that the air is quickly decontaminated by providing ventilation or fans. The most areas seem to be fully breathable within 10 to 15 minutes of use.

As technology advances it’s important that corrections officials stay abreast of developments that may make the job of corrections safer for inmates and staff. The vapor OC delivery system has a very specific corrections application and should definitely be a consideration for entry into an agency’s tool box of force alternatives.

Rusty began his career in 1997 working as a correctional officer at a men’s medium security prison. While working in the prison, he also served as K-9 sergeant, lieutenant and captain. He was a member of the Correctional Emergency Response Team for 15 years and held law enforcement instructor certifications in defensive tactics, chemical agents and firearms. In 2013 he became a full-time academy instructor where he instructed courses in several topics within the field of corrections and law enforcement. In 2019 he moved to his current position where he serves as a Department of Public Safety Bureau Chief. Rusty received his Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Bellevue University and completed graduate work at Fort Hayes State University. Rusty can be contacted by email.