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Today’s lesson at Butler Tech: Pepper spray to the face

Jocelyn Binkley started her class day like most Friday at Butler Tech.

She arrived early, started taking in the lessons of her instructors.

But today included a painful twist as she joined classmates outside the career school building to take a blast of pepper spray straight in the face.

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The noxious chemical bathed her face in a chemical burn, forcing an eruption of tears.

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But Binkley’s “lesson” wasn’t over yet.

If you want to be a police officer — as the 24-year-old Trenton woman does — and you have to subdue a violent suspect even after you’ve been hit by a stray pepper spray from your officer partner, then you still have to physically confront that suspect.

Butler Tech Police Academy students attempt to recover after taking shots of pepper spray directly in their faces. The exercise prepares them should they accidentally be sprayed while wrestling a suspect.  (MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF)

Vision blurred, Binkley begins to do knee strikes into a pad held by a Butler Tech Police Academy classmate, then is handed a police baton to strike blows on a pad. Finally she is handed a fake handgun and told to loudly order the fictional suspect to stand down.

It all takes about a minute of frenzied action and then she’s quickly walked by assistants onto a grassy area of Butler Tech’s Public Safety Education Center in Liberty Twp. as she continues to battle the powerful effects of the pepper spray.

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She hits her knees and grabs a water hose, trying to wash away the spray as she heaves for breath, her face crimson and flooded with involuntary tears.

Around her are male colleagues, all also in various forms of physical distress from the burning chemical. Some flail about blindly while others pace, curse and shout out for the water hose or towels.

Part of the real-life lessons delivered at Butler Tech’s Police Academy in Liberty Twp. is for adult students to take shots of pepper spray directly in their faces. It’s not an act of cruelty, but rather a possible, life-saving experience should they accidentally be sprayed while wrestling a suspect. Pictured are students recovering — slowly — outside the academy with the help of water hoses, towels and lots of fresh air.  (MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF)

It’s windy Friday and that helps.

Academy class assistants yell “face into the wind!” and some use their fingers to pry their red, swollen eyes open to air away the fiery fumes.

Police Academy Instructor Tony Pope, who sprayed each of his students, watches with a veteran cop’s calm. It’s a painful lesson but a necessary one, he said.

“This prepares them for when they are working on the street and they encounter a resistant subject and either they — or another officer — deploys pepper spray. If they get some spray back on themselves they can work through it and it’s not a new experience and doesn’t make them freeze up,” said Pope.

It’s a voluntary experience, but most students participate.

And it’s all part of the adult school’s reality-based training that currently enrolls 69 cadets in three police academies, said Michael Beauchat, spokesman for Butler Tech.

“By the end of this program they (students) will be street ready and serve in any community,” he said of the academy, which has been offered to area adults for 20 years.

“Pepper spray training is not required by the state, but it’s something we do as an additional training for our students because it simulates a real-world experience … and this is something they will probably encounter,” he said.

Jeremy Stratton, 23, from Fairfield, contorted his reddened face in agony but said he was grateful for the experience.

“It’s terrible. It burns and you can’t re-open your eyes. It keeps reactivating and it’s in your nose and throat,” Stratton said.

“I appreciate this — to an extent,” he said.

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