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As graduation nears, Eastern Missouri Police Academy recruits face pepper spray test

Police academies across the country are experiencing sharp declines in enrollment, as interest in the profession wavers.
Published: May. 15, 2022 at 6:20 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) -Ten recruits of the Eastern Missouri Police Academy are less than two months away from graduation and beginning their careers, as many have had jobs lined up for months.

It’s not an uncommon situation within the academy, as departments fight over quality candidates, eager to build up their patrols after an increasing number of retirements and career changes over the last several years.

This week, recruits learned how to react in the face of pepper spray, as they completed a series of tasks similar to what they could experience in the field.

“You can sit in a classroom and teach them the effects of it all day long, but until they actually experience it themselves, and what a person is going to be going through when they get sprayed, it’s a gamechanger when they come out here and understand that it hurts and it’s very uncomfortable,” said instructor Dave McCune.

After being sprayed directly in the face and eyes with pepper spray, they complete a series of physical tasks, including running, punching, kneeing and push-ups. Then, their fine motor skills are tested, as they’re forced to handcuff a would-be suspect and put them in their patrol car all while struggling to see.

“The chances of them actually getting contaminated when they spray someone out on the streets is very high,” said McCune. “It’s most often used in situations when someone is not being compliant and have been arrested. It’s a highly effective, non-lethal tool.”

McCune said pepper spray affects about 93 percent of the population, but there are some people who are not phased by it.

“It feels like you’re on fire,” said recruit Janie Grossmann. “Like you got smacked with fire and everything is on fire!”

“Probably one of the worst experiences of my life.” said recruit Thomas Delia. “It really just feels like a sunburn on your eyes and your entire face. One of the worst sunburns I’ve ever felt.”

Graduation is set for July.