Officer Alex Bastrire charged another officer during a demonstration Tuesday, took a hit of cayenne pepper spray straight in the face, doubled over and gasped.
"My eyes are just killing me," he said.
The Police Department said it is one of the first in Orange County to begin training all its officers to use aerosol canisters of oleoresin capsicum, a non-lethal spray that police say is more effective than tear gas or Mace in subduing violent suspects.
"It takes the will to fight out of you," said Lt. Tony Hernandez, who is leading the training. "You just want immediate relief."
Trying to relieve the burning eyes and nose, Bastrire repeatedly dunked his face into a bucket of water.
Another officer took a wet paper towel and swabbed the cayenne off Bastrire's face, which was swollen and red.
"Initially, there's no way I could have fought," Bastrire said. Five minutes after the spraying, he held a hose up to his face and ran water into his eyes.
Bastrire and other officers in the department's SWAT unit are being sprayed as part of their training to use the pepper canisters. Other officers will simply taste the spray.
"I want to see how well it works," said Officer John Siko before being sprayed. Siko said officers are reluctant to use tear gas because it's not always effective, and can disable the officer as much as the suspect.
Tear gas and Mace also may not affect people who are on drugs or whose adrenalin is high, Hernandez said.
After Siko was sprayed, his eyes also became swollen and his whole head turned red in irritation.
"In 29 years I've not seen a reaction like this," said Sgt. Glenn Deveney, who videotaped the demonstration and has taped the training of 70 other officers at the department.
"It's the most consistent irritant I've seen used in law enforcement," Deveney said. He said the pepper spray seems to subdue people more effectively than tear gas.
The spray does not cause permanent damage, Hernandez said, and takes about 45 minutes to wear off. It has been used by the FBI since the mid-1980s, and is carried by postal workers to guard against dogs.
"It's no more dangerous than if you eat a jalapeno pepper," said Ray Bray, a consultant to the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training program.
More than 20 minutes after being sprayed, Bastrire hobbled to a police car, turned on the air conditioning, and stuck his face in front of the vent for relief.
Officers will carry water in their cars to help people they have sprayed, Hernandez said.
The spray is not legally available to the public for use against other people, though it can be used against dogs and other animals, Hernandez said. Its use against people could be a felony, he said, depending on the circumstances.
On Saturday at Disneyland, a man reportedly sprayed others with a repellent that officers there said may have been a pepper spray.
Police Chief Patrick McKinley said that if officers are confronted by someone who has the spray, they will treat the incident as though the person were threatening them with a knife. He said officers would move back and tell the person to hand over the spray.