Less Lethal Force: Pepper Spray Rounds

Written By: Richard T Eckert on 10/8/06
As we examine the events which unfolded on the evening of October 21, 2004, where a twenty-one year old college freshman was tragically killed, we find ourselves scrutinizing the tactics that were employed by the Boston Police Department.  According to police reports, some 60,000 to 80,000 fans took to the streets in the area surrounding Fenway Park.  Although most were simply celebrating the 10-3 victory that pushed the Red Sox into the World Series, some revelers in the crowd began vandalizing property, setting fires and trying to overturn cars (CNN, 2004).  During the course of the evening at least eight people were arrested for assorted criminal activity.  Victoria Snelgrove, who was part of this celebratory crowd, was unfortunately struck in the eye by a projectile that disperses pepper spray rounds.  This projectile was fired by a member of the Boston Police Department in an attempt to quell the riotous activity which stemmed from the Red Sox win over the New York Yankees.   

            The concept of less lethal weaponry is not new.  Law enforcement has long operated with what is called a “continuum of force” (Moss, n.d.).  This continuum normally begins with asking a subject or in this case subjects to respond to voice commands.  If the subject does not respond, the continuum may advise that the next level of force be used, in many cases, pepper spray (Pearson, 2003).  In the situation which was faced by the Boston police department, the decision to use pepper spray rounds was indeed part of the force continuum.  As asserted by Kleining (1996), to keep the social peace it is sometimes necessary to deal with people who are recalcitrant and/or dangerous.  If this is to be done effectively, coercive force will sometimes have to be used or at least threatened (p. 96).

            As I take a personal role in deciding whether the Boston Police Department used either sound judgment or a complete disregard for human life, I would have to side more with the idea that the actions of the police department were perfectly clear and made with good intentions.  That evening the Boston Police Department set out to protect both the life and property of the citizens of Boston.  Unfortunately, the actions of a few thousand fans caused a proud moment in Boston’s history, to turn into an evening that will forever be a part of the Boston Police Department. 
The level of force, which was utilized by the Boston Police Department, was completely made in good faith.  At no time did they expect or intend to take the life of an innocent party.  As for those individuals who have made it their life ambition to condemn the actions of those members of the Boston Police Department, careful scrutiny should also be made at those individuals who ultimately caused this horrific accident to occur in the first place.     

Kleining, J. (1996). The Ethics of Policing. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. 
Boston police accept ‘full responsibility’ in death of Red Sox fan. (2004, October 22). CNN. Retrieved October 7, 2006, from http://www.cnn.com
Moss, C. (n.d.). Less than Lethal Weapons. Retrieved October 8, 2006, from
Pearson, C. (2003). Less-Lethal Weapons. Retrieved October 8, 2006, from
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