Education

A shot of pepper spray gives high school students a dose of reality

'Horrible, beyond horrible:' Students pepper sprayed during training

Law Enforcement students of Eastside Technical Center High School, led by retired Kentucky police captain Lisa Rudzinski, took part in an exercise subjecting them to pepper spray while Fire/EMS students performed decontamination training in rinsin
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Law Enforcement students of Eastside Technical Center High School, led by retired Kentucky police captain Lisa Rudzinski, took part in an exercise subjecting them to pepper spray while Fire/EMS students performed decontamination training in rinsin

Christian Cobb, 15, who takes a law enforcement class at Fayette County’s Eastside Technical Center, on Wednesday said he didn’t have qualms before a training exercise in which he would get pepper sprayed.

“I know it’s going to hurt,” he said. “But it is what it is. I’m not concerned. If I’m going to be a police officer later in life, I know I will have to get it then, so I might as well experience it now.”

His father, Lexington police officer Brian Cobb, gave his permission for Christian to participate along with 21 classmates. Cobb thought it would be “a great opportunity” for his son, who is interested in becoming a military policeman, “to experience what law enforcement members go through” and “what it means when it’s used on the streets as far as use of force, that it’s not as dangerous as a lot of people believe it to be.”

Pepper spray, a chemical compound, makes the eyes and face sting temporarily. The irritant causes the eyes to tear and also temporary blindness as its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close. Police use it to subdue combative suspects, and police officers are sometimes exposed to pepper spray in the process.

After Christian, a Tates Creek High School student, was pepper sprayed, he said he didn’t think he would want to participate in such an exercise again.

“It’s just really hot. My face is burning and my eyes, everything,” he said. Some of his classmates had similar physical reactions and one appeared to be nauseous. They all spent several minutes rinsing their eyes with the help of staff and other students after the exercise ended.

“The first initial shock is just out of this world. It hurt a lot. But now that I’ve calmed down, I would do it again,” said Luke Schuller, 17. The Paul Laurence Dunbar High School student would like to join the Kentucky State Police.

Lisa Rudzinski, the retired state police captain who teaches the law enforcement course at Eastside Technical, said no student had ever been injured in the exercise. A family member has to give permission for a student to participate.

“While their eyes swell up and it is not comfortable, simply flushing it with cool water helps clear their eyes out,” she said.

In the class, law enforcement students also have the opportunity to work with simulated firearms, learn defensive tactics and physical training requirements for police officers and be exposed to a taser-like device.

Students can opt out of the pepper spray exercise, said Rudzinski, “but most of them do it.”

They tell her it’s a rite of passage.

Students at Eastside come from all high schools in Fayette, Woodford, Jessamine and Scott counties, Rudzinski said. They attend classes at Eastside for a portion of their school day.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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