Is It Better to be Tasered or Pepper Sprayed?

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Answer by Justin Freeman, Former Patrol Officer

Take it from someone who has tasted both: Take the Taser. Every time.

Now, both are awful -- I wouldn't recommend either for a leisurely afternoon. However, the difference is in how they're bad.

When a Taser is used on you, it is pure electric hell, but for exactly five seconds (the standard duration of a single trigger pull). Now, God never stitched together five longer seconds, to be sure -- the current from a Taser is by far the most acute pain I've ever endured, and this is coming from someone who's had a baseball fracture a finger, taken an elbow right to the nose in a basketball game, been hit with simulated bullets, and gotten into (and won, I might add) a street fight with a convicted felon. But once it's over, it's over. There is some lingering muscle weirdness (I liken it to that feeling that's left behind after you finally work out a charley horse in a muscle), but that's it.

When you get pepper sprayed, though, it's an hours-long ordeal. When Oleoresin Capsicum (OC, the chemical in pepper spray) hits your mucous membranes, they go absolutely insane. It took well under one minute for my eyes to swell completely shut, and they were obviously watering profusely. My sinuses underwent nothing less than a liquid detonation -- I'm trying not to be crude, but think in excess of half a pint. It's panic inducing -- you can't see without physically prying your eyelids open, you're punished every time you breathe, you can't squeegee the stuff off your face (despite frantic efforts that only serve to expand the zone of misery). It took me an hour to see clearly enough to drive, and over a full day for the pain to completely subside -- when OC dries, crystals are left behind that, no matter how many tears you produce, and can stay stuck under your eyelid.

As a civilian, I would double down on this answer, because in the heat of the moment, officers tend to err on the side of caution -- their caution. That means if you're to the point of being sprayed, you've got a high likelihood of what was known among officers as "getting hosed down." While Taser cycles can be restarted, this can only be done if the subject is continuing to resist (and cycles are recorded by a tiny onboard computer, which provides records which can be uploaded to a personal computer -- in other words, supervisors will know if you abused a Taser during a use of force incident). There's no 'standard spray' with OC -- it will emit spray as long as there are contents in the can and you have the trigger depressed.

Unfortunately, you won't have any vote if you're on the receiving end. You can take hope from the fact that most officers, in my experience, prefer using a Taser (usually no medical intervention necessary, the subject can see and isn't hyperventilating, no patrol car contamination, and on and on).

But again, do avoid both at most any cost.

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