Shoplifter Detention and Use of Force – Proper Methods to Detain a Thief

July 4, 2007

Each year shoplifting incidents are estimated to cost retail merchants in the United States well over $12 billion in losses. Since most retail stores operate on very narrow profit margins, those shoplifting losses can mean the difference between profit, loss and even bankruptcy.

Merchants sometimes use store detectives or security personnel in an effort to curb shoplifting losses. Most of the security personnel come armed with the standard arsenal of security equipment such as pepper spray, batons, stun guns, hand cuffs, etc. Unfortunately, some merchants, their employees, and any security personnel (in-house or contract) are untrained, or under-trained in the proper handling of shoplifting incidents. As a result, often store employees or security personnel take actions or make mistakes that lead to increasingly large legal liabilities and negative publicity for their employer, and sometimes personally for themselves.

In May 1999, the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC) issued the first in a series of Best Practices dealing with various security issues. The best practices meld together the best practices employed by industry leaders with those recommended by independent security experts. The results were then peer-reviewed by others within the industry. Part of that first best practice, titled Detaining Shoplifting Suspects, is reproduced here (with permission):

Detaining Shoplifting Suspects

Definition: As used [herein], the term “security person(s)” is intended to include only store proprietors and managers, store plainclothes security agents sometimes called “detectives,” and uniformed security officers also called security guards (either proprietary or contract). The term does not include sales clerks, maintenance persons, or stockers, for examples. The term “security person(s)” is not intended to apply to off-duty public law enforcement or special police personnel unless they have been instructed by store management to follow the same procedures required of ordinary citizens, which procedures do not include police powers of arrest.

In almost all jurisdictions in the United States, merchants are legally empowered to detain shoplifting suspects for investigation and possible arrest and prosecution in the criminal justice system. This power is called “merchant’s privilege.”

  • The merchant’s privilege provides for detention of persons suspected of shoplifting only when probable cause or reasonable cause exists to believe a person has committed theft. The best practice for establishing this probable cause (as compared to any legal standard) is the security person’s having met all the following six steps: (1) observe the customer approach the merchandise, (2) observe the customer select the merchandise, (3) observe the customer conceal (or otherwise carry away) the merchandise, (4) keep the customer under constant and uninterrupted observation, (5) see the customer fail to pay for the merchandise, and (6) detain the customer outside the store.
  • The merchant’s privilege permits detention for limited purposes which vary by state. Common among these limited purposes are: (1) ascertaining that stolen merchandise is possessed by the suspect, (2) identifying the suspect, (3) investigating the alleged theft, (4) recovering stolen merchandise, and (5) notifying the police of the offense. Some states permit limited searches of the suspect, some states limit the extent to which identity may be established; and the use of force which can legally be used is, if mentioned, always non-deadly. Many company or store policies further restrict permissible actions in dealing with shoplifting suspects; e.g., prohibiting pursuing suspects beyond company property.

In some circumstances shoplifting suspects are treated incorrectly by store management and security persons. Such treatment may cause results varying from simple mistakes to the violation of civil rights of suspects. If a best practice is not used, it is better not to detain a suspect than to risk the high cost of a civil liability suit. Two kinds of questionable detentions will illustrate this point. One kind applies to the customer who is truly an innocent party but whose conduct, for any number of reasons, led the security person to believe that a theft had occurred. People in this kind of detention are innocent victims of circumstance. The other kind applies to the customer who is not truly an innocent party, but for any number of reasons is not in possession of stolen merchandise when stopped by a security person.

Security persons usually do not actually “arrest” shoplifters, but simply detain them for police authorities. Exceptions arise to this practice in those states where private persons’ arrest powers exist concurrent with but separate from the “privilege” statutes discussed above. In these exceptional cases, security persons arrest after proof of the offense of theft.

Security persons cannot look into the minds of suspects. Security persons can only observe actions of suspects and completely and accurately report such actions. It is up to a judge or trier of fact to determine intent to deprive a merchant permanently of a taken item …. Step number 6 [detaining the customer outside the store] exists to help the judge or trier of fact determine the intent of the customer because the cash registers inside a store are normally the last place a person would have to pay for an item before departing a store. Reports by security persons are normally detailed enough to include other observations which would tend to establish intent.

The International Association of Professional Security Consultants, Inc. (IAPSC) has examined the methods of detaining suspects recommended by security professionals and practiced by merchants throughout the United States. IAPSC sets forth below what it believes to be the best practices.

Best Practices

  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have personally seen the suspect approach the merchandise.
    Rationale. The suspect may have entered the store with the merchandise already in hand or otherwise on or about their person (say, in a shopping bag or purse).
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have personally observed the suspect select or take possession of, or conceal the merchandise.
    Rationale. Security persons trust their own eyes and do not rely on reports by others.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have observed the suspect with the merchandise continually from the point of selection to the point where the suspect has gone beyond the last checkout station without paying for the item. If the surveillance has been broken, or if the person has gotten rid of the merchandise, the security person breaks off following for that offense, but may continue surveillance if it appears the suspect may commit theft again.
    Rationale. The suspect may have “ditched” the merchandise or concealed it. By continually observing the suspect, the security person can observe whether or not the suspect still has the merchandise even if it has been concealed on the suspect’s person.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect outside the store after the suspect has passed the last checkout station and has failed to pay for an item of merchandise. At this point security persons using this best practice immediately investigate to verify or refute a suspect’s claim of innocence. Special care and consideration is exercised when merchandise is displayed for sale outside the store, such as garden supplies, sidewalk sales, etc., or which is displayed for sale inside the store, but beyond the last sales point.
    Rationale. The security person does not do only what is required to meet the minimum requirements of theft laws. The actions of a suspect make it easier to prove intent to deprive the merchant of an item of merchandise. The farther from the actual taking a suspect is detained, the clearer the offense will appear to a judge or trier of fact. The security person is aware of suspects who might claim they were looking for a matching item or looking for someone to give an opinion on the merchandise before it is purchased. A suspect may, however, offer a logical explanation for actions that initially appeared to the security person to be acts of shoplifting, but which may require only a limited investigation to verify the suspect’s explanation.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices normally do not “chase” suspects by running inside a store or in shopping centers that are occupied by customers. Exceptions occur when necessary, but only in such areas as parking lots, and then only when few people are in the area and it is unlikely a bystander could get hurt. Such foot pursuits never leave the property on which the store is located. If a suspect runs, the best practice is for the security person to make a mental note of the appearance of the suspect and the merchandise that appears to have been taken; then to make a written report for the store’s files.
    Rationale. Running may create more problems than it solves. When a suspect runs and a security person chases that person by also running, clients and employees of the store and store employees are endangered more by the combination of two persons’ running, than by the suspects running alone. Handicapped clients may be knocked off their feet. Wheelchairs may be overturned. Store employees who may intervene to help may be injured by security persons in pursuit, or by running into counters or display devices, or by slipping on polished floors. When clerks leave their posts, they leave their own merchandise exposed to theft. An exception to this best practice may exist when it is necessary to chase a suspect down in order to protect customers and store employees from ongoing violence by the suspect.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices treat suspects equally and fairly regardless of a suspects race, color, creed, gender, or national origin.
    Rationale. Anecdotal information suggests certain groups have been marked by some store management and security persons for more surveillance and/or more aggressive anti-shoplifting measures. Color, religious or national dress, gender, and “race” are alleged to have been used to identify persons in such groups. However, there is no scientific evidence regarding the validity of such “profiling,” and this practice is avoided by security persons using best practices. Suspicion of shoplifting depends upon observed actions, not appearance. All law-abiding persons have the right to be treated the same as any other person in the marketplace.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices do not use weapons such as firearms, batons (“nightsticks”), or restraining devices such as thumb cuffs, “come-alongs,” mace, or pepper spray in order to apprehend or detain a shoplifting suspect. Stores using best practices occasionally permit the use of handcuffs by security persons whose training has included instruction in the proper use of handcuffs when necessary to prevent injury to customers or store personnel. Security persons using best practices use handcuffs only when a suspected shoplifter is physically threatening violence or otherwise resisting detention; or there is, in the good judgment of the security person, the risk of imminent serious harm absent their use.
    Rationale. There is no merchandise of such value that it warrants a security person’s injuring a suspect or an innocent customer. Use of weapons and restraining devices except handcuffs should be left to on-duty public law enforcement officers. If it is not possible to get the suspect’s willing cooperation, it is better to let the suspect go free than to risk injuring a suspect or other customer. Risk avoidance is a factor considered in apprehending and detaining suspects. Because handcuffs are restraining devices, they can be painful if improperly applied and can cause injury. Not all persons caught need restraining. Many people caught shoplifting are humiliated by the incident and are cooperative; hence, in such cases restraint is not necessary.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices limit the use of force to “holding” or “restraining” to effect a detention. Security persons using best practices do not use actions such as striking, tackling, sitting on a suspect’s body, or any other action that might cause physical injury to the suspect.
    Rationale. Use of force is subject to criticism, and assaultive use of force is typically unnecessary and unacceptable in the private sector. However, some holding or restraining may be necessary lest potential thieves learn that by simply resisting they may come and steal with impunity. Use of limited holding or restraining force is sometimes necessary to detain a suspect until police arrive, or to prevent a suspect from injuring security persons. Under no circumstances should the force applied be that which may result in injury or death to a suspect. No merchandise is of such value as to justify physical injury to a suspect. The better practice is to allow the suspect to depart the premises rather than to cause any injury by the use of force in detaining the suspect. Assuming the suspect can be identified, the merchant can file a complaint; then the public police have the option of apprehending the suspect at a later time.

Comments

In addition to the Best Practices listed above, which are the best procedures to use in most circumstances, I also recommend that a minimum of two trained employees be utilized in every suspected shoplifter detainment, also referred to as a “stop.” The best rule of thumb is to use at least one more employee than there are suspected shoplifters. This is not only to ensure the safety of the security personnel, but also to ensure that there is at least one trained witness to what occurs and what is said, from the first moment of the “stop,” until its conclusion.

Where practical, loss prevention personnel should be provided with badge and/or photo-identification card identifying them as security personnel for that store or company. They should display their I.D. card and/or badge when making a stop. Regardless of whether or not they have a badge or card, at the beginning of any stop they should verbally identify themselves as security personnel before doing or saying anything else. (Other store personnel should identify themselves as “store manager” or whatever is appropriate). Grabbing a suspect without warning before identifying themselves, especially if the person is grabbed from the side or from behind, creates a situation that may provoke a violent response from startled persons.

Use of force is the area most likely to lead to lawsuits and to create a bad public image for merchants, damaging their reputation or brand. In the heat of the moment, it is easy for employees or other security or loss prevention personnel to fall into the trap of wanting to catch the thief, and get the merchandise back at all costs! However, self-defense excepted, nothing is so valuable in the store as to risk injury to employees or to customers, or the risk of subsequent bad publicity, and the possibility of a lawsuit for using “excessive” or “unneeded” force.

Likewise, chasing a fleeing shoplifter through the store or parking lot traffic, especially if he or she has already dropped the merchandise, is an invitation for someone to be injured, frequently resulting in a lawsuit against the store or employee. Offensive punching, kicking, tackling, and dragging suspects is always inappropriate and should be prohibited by management. Note that sometimes grabbing a suspect or holding him, including holding him down is necessary for self-defense or defense of others, but such actions should be limited in scope and defensive and holding in nature. Use of force should never exceed the amount of force being used or being attempted by the suspect. Caution and discretion are always the best approach in this area. If management authorizes the use of any more force than simple guiding or touching restraint, (e.g., the use of “come-along” holds, the use of pepper-spray, etc.), the officers should be trained in such tactics by a certified instructor, and that advanced training should be documented. As one government agency frequently states about training, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t occur.”

Likewise, only security personnel who have been trained and periodically re–trained in their use should be permitted to carry and use handcuffs. Handcuffs have sometimes been used as weapons, and, when improperly applied, they have led to serious injuries and, in some cases, deaths. Reasonable policy dictates that handcuffs are used only to restrain a shoplifter who has used force against the merchant or employee, or otherwise physically resisted detention, or, once detained, has verbally threatened to use force. In every case for which handcuffs are used, their use must be reasonable and justifiable for that particular situation (“reasonable” as in reasonable in the minds of a judge or jury). Caution and discretion are extremely important when using or even displaying handcuffs.

Extra special care and restraint, especially in the areas of use of force, length of detention and the use of handcuffs, should also be exercised whenever dealing with juveniles, or the elderly, or those who are sick, injured, or physically or mentally challenged. If someone is injured or sick, or even claims to be, don’t guess! Immediately call for medical assistance! If the person has I.D., you can always pursue criminal charges later if you wish. If he or she doesn’t have I.D., call the police and tell them you have called for medical assistance for a sick or injured shoplifting suspect whom you are detaining, and you are requesting police assistance. They will usually speed up the police response.

Readers desiring additional information on these or related subjects should contact a qualified professional security consultant and/or their attorney.

Disclaimer:

This article is based on generally accepted security principles, and on data gathered from what are believed to be reliable sources. This article is written for general information purposes only and is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a primary source for making security decisions. Each situation is or can be unique. The author is not an attorney, is not engaged in the practice of law, and is not rendering legal advice. Readers requiring advice about specific security problems or concerns should consult directly with a security professional. The author of this article shall have no liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss, liability, or damage alleged to have been caused by the use or application of any information in this article, nor information contained on this or any linked or related web site.

by R. Witherspoon

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Using and Choosing a Personal Safety Alarm

June 20, 2007

The likelihood of facing violence or assault in our daily lives is a lot higher than it used to be. As populations grow and the cultures merge, there is a growing chance of getting in a threatening or dangerous situation. We all want to feel as safe and secure and personal alarms can help us feel more confident and provide a level of security.

There are many different types of alarms available and picking the right personal alarm can sometimes be tricky. First, understand your situation and needs, and you should be able to pick the best one for your needs.

The Objective of a Personal Safety Alarm

The purpose of a personal safety alarm is to shock and disorientate an attacker, alert others for help, and to give you time to get away. They are not designed to immobilize or scare off the attacker. Personal alarms may not actually attract the attention of passers by, but they will cause the attacker to flee most of the time.

Key Features

The most significant part of an alarm is the sound it emits. This sound needs to be as loud and as high-pitched as possible. Ideally, it also needs to be dissimilar to those usually heard such as automobile alarms, police sirens, etc. Most law enforcement personnel agree that the most successful sound is constant shriek and over 130 decibels. This is not a sound we usually hear and makes the alarm better able to startle the attacker and alert people nearby.

A personal alarm needs to be simple to carry. But it is important to weigh the pros and cons of a very lightweight and small alarm verses one that is slightly larger and louder. Some small alarms can be very loud, although the sound may not last for very long. They can be easier to handle for some people. The best compromise is in an alarm that can fit without difficulty into the palm of your hand, but is still very loud. There are also flashing personal alarms with lights which give a visible point of reference to anyone passing by.

Ease of use also is also a consideration. How would you operate the alarm in an urgent situation? There are many different ways to activate the various types of alarms including push caps, push buttons and pull out pins. How awkward is it to locate the button and activate it? Do you have problems using your hands or fingers? If so, you might need to use both hands. As an alternative, are you able to operate it purely by pushing it against something else? Some even have straps that can clip onto your shirt or belt and are triggered by simply pulling the device.

Remember, a personal safety alarm should be just one part of your personal safety strategy. There are many other ways you can protect yourself against aggression, including self defense techniques. Once you have set off your alarm, leave the area and situation as quickly as you can. If possible, move to a busy and well lit location. There is no need to wait and make sure that your alarm has had the desired effect. Just leave and seek help.


Strategic Use of Defense Sprays in Self Defense

June 19, 2007

You’ve just read that one of the keys to protecting yourself is recognizing a potential threat and knowing when it becomes an assault. That moment is when apprehension becomes fear; when your own instincts scream at you, “Act! Now!” At this moment, you must be ready to act quickly and precisely. In this section we’ll discuss exactly how to use defense sprays to prepare you as best we can, how to escape a hostile confrontation.

Timing

One of the keys to effective use of defense sprays is timing. Exactly when you bring a spray to bear on an assailant can be critical to the outcome of a situation. First, make sure the spray is readily available and, second, through practice, learn how to use it quickly and accurately. Now, when faced with a potentially threatening situation, it’s only a matter of when you decide to react. The timing of defense spray use is controlled by three things: prior awareness, the distance involved when the assault actually takes place, and whether or not your movement or physical capabilities are restricted by the assailant. There are several other special factors, but those will be covered later. The first timing factor is prior awareness, which was covered in the last section. An un- anticipated assault will be covered shortly. Just remember, that if you have any forewarning at all, it will probably be very short, and you may have only seconds to react. Under these circumstances, timing is critical! Timing refers to exactly when you unclip the spray and raise it up to spray the assailant. In situations where you see the assault coming, DON’T pull the spray out immediately to threaten the assailant. To repeat, DO NOT pull the spray out until you’re ready to use it! Do not threaten with it! Showing the spray before you shoot, tells the assailant what you’re going to do and gives him the opportunity to prepare for and react to it. And what’s worse, he may have his own weapon. Showing him your spray may cause him to brandish his weapon and escalate the situation to a far more dangerous level. Many of today’s criminals carry weapons “just in case.” When you pull out your spray, be ready
to use it! The more swift and unexpected your countermeasure, the more successful your defense will be.

Shooting the Spray

There’s much more to using a defense spray than just pointing and shooting. Remember, don’t raise, point, and shoot the spray until you’re ready to fire, until the assailant is in range and you know the spray will hit him full in the face and incapacitate him. The objective is to surprise and stop him before he has a chance to react or think. When you’re ready to shoot the spray, go into a slight crouch with your weight evenly balanced on both feet, if you have the chance. Thrust your non-shooting hand straight out in front of you. At the same time shout “STOP” as loud as you can. As you’re doing this, raise your hand holding the spray to eye level, approximately six inches in front of your chin, aim over your outstretched arm and hand, and shoot at the assailant’s face. Shouting “STOP” creates a slight diversion, but more importantly, it focuses your energy. Raising your arm outstretched toward the assailant may cause his immediate attention to be focused on that hand, not the one with the spray. This gives you time to bring the spray to bear and shoot before the assailant can react. Never thrust your shooting hand out in front of you toward the assailant. He may react quickly and hit your hand aside or grab it. As you shoot, back up, continuing to do so until the spray has affected the assailant.

Most sprays emit a wide enough pattern so that they don’t require precise aiming. However, if you need to make an adjustment, do it calmly but quickly. Don’t wave the spray around like a fire hose. That does nothing but waste the spray, causing much of it to hit empty air. Aim, shoot, see where you’re hitting and, if need be, correct your aim quickly while spraying. You should shoot the spray for 2 to 3 seconds. A good, solid medium duration spray around the head and shoulders should do it. After shooting, the assailant will normally stop within a second or two, blinded and virtually helpless due to uncontrollable coughing spasms. Once he’s disabled, stop spraying. Continue backing up and concentrate on getting away. Obviously you may not have time to shoot the spray in such a “textbook” way. You may not have time to do anything but bring the spray up and start shooting. If that’s the case, don’t worry about aiming correctly, or even correcting aim. JUST SHOOT!

Retreat and Escape

The whole purpose of using a defense spray is to stop your assailant immediately, disable him so he can no longer hurt you, and give you the opportunity to escape to a safe place. DO NOT attempt to hold the assailant for the police. In fact, get as far away from him as you can. DO NOT move toward the assailant in any way since you could be affected by the spray, which then could incapacitate you. The best way to escape is by backing away from the assailant as you’re shooting, or immediately after. Do not turn your back on him! Obviously, you need to see where you’re going, but don’t turn your back and run away until you’re at a good distance and the assailant no longer presents an immediate threat. If the assailant attempts to follow you or the first spray wasn’t enough, you must be ready to spray him again. Once you’re a safe distance from the assailant, turn and run quickly
to the nearest safe place, preferably one with people who can help you. Once you reach a safe place, be forceful in your request for help. A command of, “Call the Police now!” will usually do it since people can sometimes be hesitant to help or get involved. DO NOT WAIT! And do not go back to where you left the assailant. He may still be in the area.

Special Circumstances – Multiple Assailants

When faced with multiple assailants, you should use a circular or semicircular spray pattern technique that provides a protective barrier. If the assailants are in front of you, spray the one nearest you directly. His sudden reaction may stop the others when they see the agony he’s going through. As with a single assailant, immediately begin retreating or backing up, never taking your eyes off the assailants, remaining ready to spray anyone else foolish enough to pursue. Retreat and escape to safety as previously described. However, if multiple assailants travel and strike in packs, for protection and dominance. Usually when one or two of them are stopped, the rest will stop as well. If multiple assailants keep coming toward you, even after stopping one of them, put out a 180 degree arc of spray to your front while continuing to back up. You must fight the natural urge to turn your back on the assailants and run. You cannot disable them as well, or as effectively, if you’re running away. The idea is to force the assailants through the spray to get to you. Keep in mind this defense works best at a range of six to eight feet. Any shorter distance and they’re too close. The successful use of the 180 degree spray tactic also depends on the type and range of your spray. Test spray your unit to determine its range and spray pattern. Again, don’t wave the spray around like a fire hose. Lay down a solid, continuous barrier of protection quickly but thoroughly. There’s an exception to the single and multiple assailant tactics just described. If your assailant(s) attack you at a run, your first, and best instinct, is to run as well. But while you’re running, pull the spray, aim it behind you,and shoot. This tactic again forces the assailant(s) through the spray to get to you. Use this only as an emergency measure, however, and only spray when you know the assailant(s) are in the effective range of your spray, usually 8 to 10 feet. Otherwise you’re simply wasting the spray.

Immobilized Victim Situations

The other special circumstance you may be faced with is being grabbed by an assailant before you have a chance to react as previously described. This would typically be the case if you were suddenly attacked from behind or from another direction. The key factor is whether or not you have the freedom to retreat or use the spray on the assailant. In this situation, your best chance is to draw the spray, assume the ready position with your hand on the spray. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and create a fog with the spray to surround you and your assailant. This is the only advantage you have.

No Retreat Situation

There are certain situations where immediate retreat is impossible. The two most common are when there are multiple assailants that have surrounded you, and when you are trapped or cornered with no avenue of retreat. If you find yourself surrounded by multiple assailants you must do two things immediately. First, assuming the assailants are within range, disperse a full 360-degree circle of spray at head level, again creating a barrier the assailants must pass through to get to you. This may break up the pack quickly, or it may not. In either case, your second step is to quickly find the best escape route, and immediately take it since your life may depend on it! In order to do this you may have to target one of the assailants with the spray, spray him, and push past him quickly. This calls for a forward attack with the spray, which means you’ll be entering a spray zone where you’ll be affected. To lessen the effects, take a deep breath, close your eyes briefly, and plunge through quickly. Once you’ve broken out of the circle, face the assailants, ready to spray again if necessary, and continue to back up until you can escape and get help. If you are cornered, the procedure is very much the same as when you’re surrounded. Spray the assailant(s), Hold your breath and close your eyes, and run the moment you see the assailant disabled. When using any tacticwhere you have to enter the spray zone, you will be affected by it. Ignore the effects as much as possible so you can escape and get help. As long as you don’t take a full breath of the spray, and it has only incidental contact with your eyes, you’ll be able to function well enough to escape and get help. In this scenario is that you know what’s going to happen and the assailant doesn’t. In essence you force him to breathe in the spray while you’re not. If done successfully, the assailant will either release or relax his hold on you. The moment he does, break free from him, turn and spray in a controlled manner as you retreat and escape. If the assailant grabs and immobilizes your arms and you can’t get the spray out, fight to free your shooting hand. There is one exception! Don’t fight immediately if the assailant has a weapon. This will be covered in greater detail shortly. A special note: in an enclosed area, such as a car, the spray will fill the space instantly. You must get out of the car to be affected as little as possible. If the assailant has forced you into his car, do not use it to escape. If you have sprayed the inside of your own car, don’t attempt to drive away in it unless absolutely necessary. You’ll be affected by the residual spray and driving could be very hazardous. If this is your only means of escape, roll the driver’s window down to ventilate your car. Drive to the nearest place of safety such as a restaurant, bar, convenience store, or even a residence with a light on; anywhere where there’s going to be people.

Date Rape

Use of a defense spray to prevent date rape is done much the same way as any other assault. The only difference is that you must first recognize what is happening, then verbally attempt to stop the man’s behavior. Once you say “Stop!” in a forceful way, and he doesn’t comply, you have every right to stop the continued aggressive behavior with a defense spray. Even in situations which seem non-threatening, you must have the spray available to you. If you need to retrieve it from a purse or jacket pocket, it is a good idea to rehearse a reason in advance to avoid finding yourself unable to get to the spray when you need it. When you shoot, do so quickly with surprise. Then, as with any other defense measure, leave quickly.

Use of Defense Sprays Against Knives

One situation that requires considerable judgment involves assaults with a knife. The rule of thumb is this: if you are at least two of your arm’s lengths away from the assailant, use the spray as you normally would. Whatever you do, don’t move toward the assailant for any reason. You must keep a gap between the two of you of at least 4 to 6 feet. If the assailant is within arms length of you, he can slash out with the knife and strike much faster than you can react! The moment you see a knife, back up, quickly, and continue backing while you use the spray. Don’t stop to take aim unless the assailant stops. A person with a knife has but one thing in mind when he attacks – to close the gap! He must do this in order to hurt you with the knife. If you don’t give him a chance to close that gap by stepping backward, then laying down a spray barrier, you’ll probably be able to keep him from continuing the assault. DON’T EVER TURN YOUR BACK ON AN ASSAILANT WITH A KNIFE! You must know where that knife is and how far away it is! As with a gun, if you are surprised by an assailant with a knife, particularly from behind, don’t use the spray immediately. If an assailant has a knife next to your body don’t make any sudden moves or attempt to spray the assailant; not as long as the knife is within striking distance.

Use of Defense Sprays Against Guns

There are circumstances when you absolutely should not use the spray immediately, even though it’s instantly available to you. If you are confronted by an assailant with a gun don’t suddenly pull the spray out, as he may think it’s a weapon and shoot you! Don’t make any sudden moves when facing a firearm. Do what you’re told! If that means giving up a purse or wallet, do so! (Exception: If an assailant tries to force you into an isolated area or into a car at gunpoint, run away! You have a 98% chance of survival if you run, compared to 50% if you go with the attacker.) Don’t expose your hand by showing the spray or threatening the assailant with it! That doesn’t mean, however, that you must not look for an opportunity to use the spray. If the assailant puts the gun down to assault you or attempt rape, then use the spray; but only if you feel you have a good chance of escaping the situation without being hurt. Although it’s risky, you just might be saving your life. If the assailant lets his guard down, puts the knife or gun down, or steps away from you, use the spray swiftly for maximum surprise. This can involve significant risk and you must determine if your life is in danger.

Special Notes

In all cases of an attack from the rear you must know if there is a weapon involved! Don’t spray the area in a panic. The assailant may be affected by the spray, but if he’s close enough he may strike with the knife or shoot the gun. A special note to women about rape attempts. If you are assaulted with a weapon, a gun or knife, at close range, keep in mind that, at some point, the rapist may be preoccupied with the rape itself. He may assume your fear will keep you in line. Let him continue thinking that and at the first opportunity get the spray and disable him, so you can escape. JUST BECAUSE THE RAPIST DOESN’T USE A WEAPON AGAINST YOU INITIALLY, DOESN’T MEAN HE WON’T LATER. HE MAY ATTEMPT TO SERIOUSLY HURT OR KILL YOU AFTER THE ACT ITSELF. DON’T GIVE HIM THAT CHANCE! Finally, keep in mind that an assailant in the act of striking you may not have enough control to keep you from breaking free. If you can, break free at the first opportunity and use the spray. Also, if you feel at any time that the assailant isn’t going to let you go or let you live, you must attempt to get away using the spray, even if the assailant has a gun or a knife.

Post Assault Considerations – Police Involvement

Once you’ve escaped from an assailant, get to safety as quickly as possible. CALL THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY! There are several reasons for this. First, there’s a good chance the assailant will be apprehended, particularly if you’ve sprayed him with an OC spray with dye. This is important because it takes the assailant off the street, at least temporarily, and it just may prevent a second assault; either on you or someone else. A second assault, on you? Yes! While many assaults are crimes of opportunity, some are the result of premeditated planning on the part of the assailant. He may have been watching you, your routines, your residence, etc. He may have been stalking you specifically. While this isn’t something we like to think about, it is nonetheless true in some cases. By getting the police, involved you may just deter the assailant from coming after you again. If, in the assault, the assailant gets away with your purse or wallet or anything else which can identify who you are and where you live, you must get the police involved. If they don’t apprehend the assailant and he gets your wallet, checkbook, keys, etc., YOU MUST ASSUME HE WILL BE COMING TO YOUR RESIDENCE, OR WILL ATTEMPT TO STEAL YOUR CAR! As you can see it is very important that the police become involved immediately. Avoid the temptation to go back after the assailant yourself! That’s not a job for you or your friends. It’s a job for the police. Let them handle the situation and give them your complete cooperation.

Spray Replacement

You should test spray your defenses spray unit once a month. Spray it outside, downwind for a brief “spurt” then release. Note how far the spray goes and see if it’s as full as it was when new. If the range is less than 3 to 4 feet or the spray seems to be thin or weak, replace it immediately. Do not rely on it! Most sprays, even ones that have an indefinite chemical shelf life, can lose their pressure over time, much the same as a fire extinguisher. If you use the defense spray against an assailant, replace the unit immediately. In the excitement of the assault, you may not realize just how much was sprayed. If you have to use it again, there may not be a sufficient amount of chemical or pressure to do the job. Most units cost between $10.00 and $20.00 dollars, which is a small price to pay for the peace of mind knowing the unit is new and ready to protect you once again.

Residential Defense

Use of a defense spray for residential protection is considerably different from its use for personal defense. The biggest difference is the inability to retreat and escape. While this is possible and necessary in some cases, most residential defense relies on providing a barrier to prevent intrusion.

Storage of Defense Sprays in the Residence

Where you keep defense sprays within your residence should be determined by the type and layout of the residence, the number of residents, location and number of access points, the likely points of entry, and any other security measures in place. The type of residence you live in is a key factor. An apartment, for instance, with only one door and two windows on a second floor is much easier to defend than a ranch-style suburban home with three or four doors and several windows at ground level. Consider the landscaping, which often times provides concealment of an intruder. Another factor is the number of residents and their age. If children are in the home their safety must be considered in the tactics applied to deal with an intruder. If all members are adults, they need only to have the knowledge to properly protect the residence. The two primary locations that should be considered for storage of the defense spray are by the bedside, where it’s readily accessible, and by the main entrance or entrances most likely to be targets for intrusion. You will need to determine the best locations to store the defense sprays based on your own evaluation. Wherever you decide to store the spray, it should be kept out of sight and, if at all possible, out of the curious hands of children. Often a door unit can be kept high on a closet shelf and a bedside unit can be kept either in a nightstand drawer or on a closet shelf. If neither of these storage places is suitable, consider attaching the unit to a wall or door frame with Velcro* or other attachment device.

Residential Tactical Use

The primary purpose for having defense spray for protection in a residential setting is to create a barrier to prevent the intruder from getting inside. There are two types of barriers with two different and distinct functions. The interior barrier is created by spraying into an area of entry just prior to retreating to a “safe room” inside the residence. The door and window defense is similar to personal defense on the street. It is used on an intruder when he is entering, or is already in the residence.

Interior Barrier Defense

This defense is used if you become aware of an intruder still outside, in the act of breaking in, or if he is already in the residence. In order for this spray defense to work it is necessary to have a “safe room,” an interior room such as a bedroom, bathroom, or a closet that can be securely locked and will resist break in by the intruder. It should also have a phone to call the police. If a break in is in progress or is imminent, spray the entry area the intruder must come through, then retreat to your safe room. If there are children or others in the residence, gather them together in the safe room with you. Once there, be ready to spray anyone who breaks through the door. Don’t go from your safe room for any reason as you don’t know whether the intruder is armed, his mental state, or his intentions. Inside the safe room, don’t wait directly in front of the door, but rather to the side of it, ready to spray anyone who enters.

Door and Window Defense

The big difference between door and window defense and an interior barrier defense is the amount of preparation or warning time. The only time you should use a spray defense to stop an intruder from coming through a door or window is when the intruder is already in and you’re in imminent danger. A good example would be waking up to find an intruder climbing in through your bedroom window or actually in the residence. The tactic you should use for window defense is similar to that of spray defense during a personal attack on the street. However, you will not have a place to retreat. If you catch an intruder coming through a window, or if he’s already in the residence, spray him directly in the face, then get out of the room, either to a another room or to a hallway. Shut doors behind you if possible. If the intruder comes through the door, spray him again and leave the house. The exception to this is if you have children or other residents in the residence that must be protected. In that case retreat to a position where you can defend them from the intruder should he press the attack. Use any means available to you to warn the others and facilitate their escape. Spray defense at a door is much the same as at a window, as you directly spray the intruder as he enters the residence. Don’t try to open the door suddenly, spray the intruder, then shut it again. Like the street assault, you want the spray defense to take the assailant/intruder by complete surprise. If you spray an intruder and surprise him as he comes in, the chances are good he’ll immediately run away. If the intrusion takes place at night do not turn on the lights if the intruder is inside. If he’s still trying to break in turn the lights on. This will probably scare him off which is exactly what you want. The best form of preparation for defending against an intruder is to rehearse what you should do in various situations. This rehearsal can be very effective, particularly if you find you have to use a spray defense in the dark. It’s very important to include all residents in the procedure and practice drills. As mentioned previously, the best type of spray to use for residential defense is a large fogger type. Their range is usually about 15 to 20 feet, and they emit a fine mist, remaining in the air for several minutes. Living in the residence for the next few hours maybe uncomfortable, even after you’ve washed the area down and aired it out. But that is far better than becoming a victim of a violent assault, which has effects that can last a lifetime.

Travel Considerations

Use of a defense spray while traveling is basically the same as any other residential situation. The only real difference is lack of a prepared safe room. This problem is easily remedied by using the bathroom of your hotel or motel room. In most rooms calling the police is easily done on the room phone. Dial 911, not the hotel or motel switchboard! If you’re traveling in an RV or motor home, the door defense applies. Let the intruder know you’re aware of him and spray him if he manages to break in. This is if you’re in an RV park and hooked up to the facilities. If you’re not hooked up, just drive off!

Conclusion

Neither the best spray available, nor extensive knowledge of tactics can substitute for two invaluable necessities: carrying the spray wherever you go and practicing it’s use. Go over in your mind all the scenarios you can think of, and plan how to handle these various scenarios. When you read of a personal assault in the newspaper, figure out what you would have done using the defense spray to protect yourself in the same situation. The main thing to remember is that there’s a difference between simply having the spray with you, and being ready to use it at a moment’s notice. The difference is one of attitude, and of preparedness. Being prepared includes knowing that you would be the next victim. It is the conviction that your health and well-being, your very life in fact, could depend on being able to successfully protect yourself in a hostile confrontation. Defense sprays are only tools. The best defense you have is your knowledge and your attitude, and having the determination to survive an encounter. It’s an attitude that says, “I refuse to be a victim!”

By Doug Lamb