Are ASRs obsolete?
Recently someone asked us whether the pepper-bases personal defense spray– generally referred to as the ASR, was dead, effectively replaced by the Taser™ and other emergency safety tools. It has been over twenty years since we introduced capsaicin-based sprays at the 1988 conference of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, and we have not had any financial interest in them for over a decade, it was and interesting question.
The first ASR was an oleoresin capsicum in alcohol solution, and contained one tenth of one percent capsaicin. It had a near-zero failure-to-control rate in the hands of a trained user. As it happens, capsaicin is extremely soluble in alcohol and virtually insoluble in water, making alcohol the ideal carrier. While some have noted that alcohol is as flammable as hair spray, if you avoid using it on anyone whose hair is on fire, there is no issue. We note that there was an incident here inNew York City, using a sample we had given ESU (though they declined training in its use), we note that nobody was injured, and that the incident could not be replicated.
The ASR was designed to be used by a line officer on pain resistant subjects at field interrogation distance or closer: In practical terms, from five feet to six inches. How did it work? When the atomized ester containing the capsaicin was inhaled, it dilated the capillaries of the trachea, producing uncontrollable coughing. In order to simulate pain-resistant subjects, the ASR Instructors Council recommended that subjects in dynamic simulations wear glasses, and slather their face, hands, and all exposed skin with DermaShield™ or DermaPlus™ to eliminate any dermal discomfort.
The big disadvantage of ASRs was that the mist would float in the air, and cause everyone to cough. Even this wouldn’t be incapacitating, it was certainly annoying.
The FBI felt that a spray containing one half of one percent capsaicin was a better choice, as it decreased the failure-to-control rate marginally, and did not increase recovery time. They believed that above one half of one percent capsaicin there was no increase in effectiveness, that recovery time increased, and that if pain-sensitive subjects were sprayed it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. So we ended up with two strengths.
Subsequently, other manufacturers entered the field. One of the first things they did was to change from an alcohol carrier to other carriers, which often did not mist well. Second, they wanted greater reach for the products, even though the products would, in fact, be used at field interrogation distance or closer. Finally, some move to stream units, which, since they didn’t mist and wouldn’t be inhaled, didn’t work well. To compensate for this some manufacturers made their products much stronger, hoping that pain-compliance would work on pain-resistant subjects. In some cases we say the failure-to-control rate go from near-zero to seventy percent.
Is the ASR obsolete? If I were an officer I would still want a misting alcohol-based ASR on my belt, backed by appropriate training.