Police in Hong Kong made liberal use of pepper spray this week, as they forcefully cleared a pro-democracy demonstration site that had blocked the city for weeks. There’s a good chance the product that law enforcement used was Sabre pepper spray, made by a company that claims to be the world’s top police supplier of pepper spray—and is located a short drive from Ferguson, Missouri.
Sabre (slogan: “Making grown men cry since 1975“) is made by Security Equipment Corp. The family-owned and operated company is headquartered in a suburb of St. Louis called Fenton, about 30 miles from Ferguson and the protests that broke out there this week after a grand jury decided not to bring charges against the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Sabre counts police forces from Uruguay to Hong Kong among its clients, as well as the St. Louis police department, and the St. Louis county police department (but not the Missouri state police). The pepper sprays it sells, like most on the market, are literally made from peppers—in Sabre’s case the oil from a pepper that is six times hotter than a habanero.
Law enforcement is only one aspect of Security Equipment Corp.’s business. “In a lot of cities, there’s usually only one law enforcement officer for every thousand residents, so the consumer market is much, much bigger,” says co-owner David Nance. (The company has developed a college campus safety and training program around Sabre products that are marketed for personal use.)
The private company doesn’t make its sales figures public, but it does offer extensive explanations of what it sells. Sabre products for law enforcement and corrections include this “crowd management projector,” which uses a nitrogen tank to shoot the eye-stinging spray as far as 30 feet away:
Which look similar to what Hong Kong police brought out the evening of Nov. 25, after pushing protesters onto a narrow strip of pavement and “trying to persuade them to leave,” as the South China Morning Post reported.
The Hong Wrong blog has some excellent photographs of the Nov. 25 clear-out, including a shot that appears to show Sabre’s “Sabre Red” canister (which actually is blue). In the past, the pepper-spraying of demonstrators in Hong Kong has only encouraged even larger crowds to come back, and right now protester numbers are increasing.