Study Examines Dangers of Crowd-Control Weapons

The weapons examined include kinetic impact projectiles, chemical irritants, water cannons, flashbangs and stun grenades and acoustic weapons .

A new study found varying levels of safety among commonly used crowd-control weapons

Researchers from the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations and Physicians for Human Rights reviewed international medical literature when available and relied on case studies to demonstrate each supposedly “non-lethal” weapon’s dangers.

In the study’s introduction, researchers encouraged police to use crowd-control weapons as “an absolute last resort when dealing with genuine and imminent threats.”

The study then broke down available information on the common types of crowd-control weapons in each section.

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A review of the impact of kinetic impact projectiles, or KIPs, showed that of nearly 2,000 documented KIP-related injuries, 70 percent were considered severe and 53 resulted in death. “There are significant doubts that these weapons can be used in a manner that is simultaneously safe and effective,” researchers wrote.

A review of chemical irritants found that, although people typically associate them with temporary irritation, 8.7 percent of the injuries they cause are severe and require medical treatment. In some cases, the canisters holding the chemicals caused traumatic injuries and death. The researchers concluded that the data sets “identify concerning levels of morbidity and even instances of death.”

Water cannons “are inherently indiscriminate,” according to the study, and can sometimes cause panic leading to stampedes. The cannons also limit officers’ ability to communicate with protesters.

Flashbangs and stun grenades carry risks of blast injuries because they are commonly made of metal or plastic parts that fragment upon explosion. The researchers found instances of injuries and death among protesters subjected to these weapons and the officers handling them. “These weapons have no place in effective crown management, intervention and control,” the researchers conclude.

Additionally, acoustic weapons, such as sound cannons, “have the potential to cause significant harm” to eardrums and may result in hearing loss, although there is little medical literature on the effects of these weapons.

Some of the study’s recommendations are listed below:

  • Weapons initially designed for military purposes shouldn’t be used for crowd control.
  • Decisions by law enforcement to adopt these weapons should be transparent and subject to political oversight and accountability.
  • Following the decision to adopt certain weapons, ammunition should be identified, inventoried and stored to facilitate accountability. Ammunition should also clearly be tracked as it’s distributed to individual officers.
  • Testing of the weapons should be conducted by governments, not solely manufacturers, and should consider legality, accuracy, lethality risk, injury risk, level of pain, lifespan and reliability.
  • The weapons should be tested in conditions similar to what would be experienced in protest situations to determine safe distances.
  • Testing results should be publicly available.
  • Police should undergo human rights training.
  • When using force, police should not treat the crowd as a single violent entity because of the actions of some individuals.
  • Warn protesters before CCWs are used.

Overall, the researchers emphasized that the objective of any protest intervention “should be to de-escalate the situation and promote and protect the safety and the rights of those present.”

Read the full report here.

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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