A group of police recruits huddled together in tears behind the VCU police station on Grace Street on Tuesday afternoon.
During the 38th Basic Pepper Spray Day, VCU Police recruits endured a painful training exercise that included being pepper sprayed directly in the face while completing a combat simulation. While onlookers took pictures and stared in shock, the 18 recruits were individually sprayed then instructed to run several feet, hit and kick a punching pad, take down a simulated target and call for backup.
Casey Jones, a recruit, had been sprayed before and said he knew what to expect.
“I tried to brace myself. It feels like having boiling water poured all over your face,” Jones said. “There is nothing you can do to ease the pain.” Jones has prior military experience with the Army National Guard and said he was ecstatic to join the VCU Police after his graduation from the program on April 12.
Police Chief John Venuti said the experience is an important aspect of every recruit’s training.
“We still have to do our jobs, even if we get sprayed,” Venuti said. “It is important that recruits know what it feels like so they can effectively handle themselves in a situation where they either get sprayed or have the wind blow their spray back into their face.”
The recruit’s training also includes traffic law, firearm operations and investigation tactics.
Venuti, who has been pepper sprayed before, described the feeling as “painful, miserable and most intolerable several minutes after the initial spray.”
Venuti also added that pepper spray is chosen over tasers for the training exercise because VCU police do not carry tasers.
Jaime Rodriguez, who also had prior military experience, was first in line.
“I wasn’t nervous going into it; that’s why I went first,” Rodriguez said. “I wouldn’t say that it hurts; it isn’t like getting your arm broken. I would say it (is) more like an irritation that won’t go away no matter what you do.”
Students were encouraged to attend the event, and the first 50 students received their own pepper spray or a self-protection alarm. Jasmine Luckey, student who was present at the training session, said witnessing the exercise was shocking.
“It was hard to watch,” Luckey said. “These people who will eventually be our protectors cringed (and) a lot of them were really big guys. It made me terrified of pepper spray.”
Captain Sean Ingram said that after Pepper Spray Day, the recruits have about a week left of training before they become officers. The recruits graduate on April 12 at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts.