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Essex policeman reacted properly by using pepper spray to stop a fight

Having been assigned to Precinct 11 in Essex for the last four years until my retirement in November, I am very familiar with the school resource officers at Chesapeake High School who were involved in the use of pepper spray to break up a fight between two students ("How much force is too much?" Dec. 16).

Both officers have been at the school for years; they know and care about the kids and work well with the administration. And you can be assured that In the Baltimore County Police Department, every incident like this one is critiqued and evaluated to see if the officers acted properly, whether additional training is needed and whether things should be done differently in the future.

Non-lethal tactics such as pepper spray are deployed to stop violent situations from escalating into incidents such as the one at Overlea High School a couple of years ago, where the school resource officers were seriously injured.

It is unfortunate that other students who may not have been directly involved in the fighting felt the effects of the spray. Yet I can't help but wonder if they were so close to the spray because they were just standing by watching, or perhaps because they were actually encouraging the offenders.

According to your own account of what happened, the officer gave several warnings and attempted to use other methods to de-escalate the situation — all to no avail when the two students involved in the fight both turned on him. This is completely unacceptable student behavior.

To answer your question whether the same rules that apply to criminals on the street should apply to students in the school, an officer's safety can be put in peril in either place.

In this case, the officers followed all the use-of-force procedures, and neither they nor the students were seriously hurt. That was the ultimate goal.

Perhaps this use of pepper spray will act as a deterrent that causes these and other students to think twice before assaulting a police officer. That would remove the need to deploy pepper spray at all.

Michael J. DiPaula

The writer is a former commander of Precinct 11 in Essex.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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