Berkeley police used pepper spray on combative people nine times last year, but officers found it effective in just five of those cases, according to reports published on the city's website.

Policymakers in Berkeley declined to talk about the reports, but the police department defended its use, saying anecdotal evidence over the years shows it can be an effective tool in crime fighting.

Although the police department has been required to submit reports on the use of pepper spray, a concentrated version of cayenne pepper, to the City Council and the Police Review Commission since 1997, the city only recently began publishing them on the Internet.

The issue of police use of pepper spray made national headlines in November when UC Davis police were shown on videos spraying noncombative protesters who were sitting with their arms linked during an Occupy protest Nov. 18. The school's police chief and two officers involved in the Davis pepper spray incident remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

In Berkeley, pepper spray is prohibited for crowd control and "incidents involving passive resistance," according to a 2009 training bulletin.

While the reports show that pepper spray used by Berkeley police in 2011 was effective only 55 percent of the time, policymakers are not willing to talk about it.


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Berkeley's Interim City Manager Christine Daniel declined an interview as did the Police Review Commission's interim officer Lillian Mayers. Police Review Commission Chairman George Perezvelez did not return phone calls nor did Vice Chair Michael Sherman.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss did say the department has not discussed "reconsideration of the use" of pepper spray despite its spotty record in 2011 of bringing resisting suspects under control.

"The effectiveness of (pepper spray) on an individual varies so much depending on the dynamics involved," Kusmiss said. "Some individuals react to it immediately, some are under the influence of a drug or intoxicant, and in other cases, the will to escape or not return to prison is greater than the effects of the spray, and suspects have various levels of tolerance."

For example, in an Oct. 1 incident in which officers responded to a domestic violence call where they observed injuries to a female victim, police tried to arrest the male suspect who "was very hostile and attempted to barricade himself," according to the report. When the man assumed a fighting stance, an officer sprayed the man -- but nothing happened.

"The suspect (then) charged me, punched me twice in the face and tackled me to the ground," the officer said in his report.

In another case on April 2, a man suspected of stealing a backpack put up a fight when officers tried to arrest him. After fighting with the man for several minutes in a brawl that went "from the porch to the kitchen and back to the porch" of a home, an officer sprayed him, but he "continued violently resisting." The report said it took six officers to subdue the man and wrap him up in a restraining device.

On the other hand, pepper spray has proved useful in some cases, according to the reports. In February, a woman who was eventually taken for a psychiatric evaluation was swinging a razor blade box cutter at passers-by and then lunged at a responding police officer with it.

"I deployed my spray," the report said. "I targeted the forehead. ... She dropped the razor and retreated to the sidewalk. The suspect was handcuffed."