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Deputy reserves get a taste of mace

October 13, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eyes tightly closed and arms outstretched, Debbie Myers walked slowly toward Capt. Curtis Keller. When she got to within about eight feet, he pressed the button on a can of pepper mace, sending out a stream of orange-brown liquid that splattered across her face.

Myers hadn't done anything wrong, but she can't use the pepper mace on the job until she experiences its effects firsthand. She and several other members of the volunteer Berkeley County Sheriff's Office Deputy Reserve Program were taking a certification class needed for them to carry the disabling irritant on their rounds.

After getting a hit of the pepper spray, she was led to a tub of water to get her face dunked. She spent several more minutes alternately having her face flushed with a garden hose and wiped off with paper towels.

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There are 49 deputy reserves in the county, including 10 on the Berkeley County Deputy Reserves Search and Rescue Team formed about a year ago, according to Robert A. Masters, who has served as the reserves' chief for about four years.

Masters said the reserves are used for neighborhood watch programs, traffic and crowd control at events and other routine duties. He said the search and rescue team is used to search for lost children and hunters and for parking lot patrols at events like the Berkeley County Youth Fair.

Masters said four to six members of the mounted team worked the youth fair parking lots last summer, cutting the number of automobile break-ins from more than 20 the previous year to zero.

Deputy reserves are given shirts, hats, badges, jackets and radios for their patrols; they provide their own slacks and shoes. Members of the search and rescue team, Masters said, provide the horses and transport them to events.

"In order for them to carry the mace, they have to go through the school and get maced," Keller said. Other classes they can take include traffic control, fingerprinting and how to work a crime scene.

Keller said the reserves, who are not paid, cannot by law carry firearms. They go through a 120-hour probation period which is mostly on-the-job training, supplemented by classes in police skills.

"There go my sinus problems," said Steve Sowers, who was still feeling the effects of the pepper mace 20 minutes after getting his dose.

"It's hot. It makes you keep your eyes closed. It'll burn every part of your face," he said, his eyes still noticeably red, puffy and watering.

Sowers said the class included a videotape on how to use the mace, its effects and how to treat someone after they have been sprayed. As the name implies, the disabling pepper spray is made of extracts from hot peppers.

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