Less-Lethal Weapon Options

Here’s a reminder of the alternatives available when a situation doesn’t warrant deadly force.

Projectile Weapons

Another long standing group of less-lethal weapons are those that fire some type of blunt force round. The round is designed to cause pain but not penetrate the skin. It transfers and disperses its kinetic energy into its target. The most common rounds are those fired from a shotgun. The projectiles themselves come in a bean-bag form or fire some type of rubberized bullet. The main problem with the bean-bag type is range and accuracy. The problem with both is that they can also cause great bodily harm or death if they strike in the wrong place. Though these rounds cause pain, they may not incapacitate right away. You have to be ready to move in quickly and take advantage of the opportunity they create.

Next we have specific launchers designed to fire a host of specialty rounds including chemical agents. The most widely used models fire rounds in the 37mm to 40mm range. To give you a sense of scale, a shotgun round is in the 18mm range. These launchers are either single or multiple shot weapons. I am most familiar with a multiple shot 40mm launcher and have deployed it many times as a supervisor. Each time it was deployed, the suspect either became incapacitated or gave up shortly thereafter because he didn’t want to get hit again.

My suggestion to any agency looking for some type of launcher would be to focus on a multiple-shot version, as follow-up shots are easier to make. Manufacturers offer a short range and long range round so one has to make sure the operator is dialed in to the right range. As with anythin
g to do with high liability areas, training and practice are key components of any weapons system.

Launchable Pepper Projectiles

It was just a matter of time before someone realized that paint ball carbines and pistols could have an application in law enforcement. It was in the late 1990s that they popped up on the radar. Instead of shooting paint balls, they shoot a type of OC pepper-spray pellet instead. Such projectiles contain pepper powder in hard frangible spheres that have a wide operating temperature range and can be deployed with specialized launchers. In contrast, paintballs are made from soft gelatin material and are highly sensitive to changes in temperature.

Most agencies use pepper-spray pellets for crowd control, but they can also be used for controlling uncooperative or violent suspects. The impact of the pepper-spray pellets produces pain, and the subsequent release of the encased powder form of OC has effects similar to those of any other use of OC.

Because of their range, pepper-spray pellet projectiles provide a great way to target one person in the crowd or to gain control of someone who is resisting. Examples of people resisting include someone trying to commit suicide by cop or a mentally ill person making threats with a knife. The effective range for a point target is 60 feet and for an area target is 150 feet. The pepper-spray pellet concept has made its way into shotgun munitions as well.

Certain Risks

The whole less-lethal concept is flawed in the sense that there is no right way to describe it. “Less-lethal” does not mean “not lethal,” as any less-lethal weapon has the potential to be deadly. Even a strobe light can cause someone with epilepsy to have a seizure and then fall and hit his or her head and die. In December 2012, TASER released this statement:

“TASER has changed the generic term describing our handheld products from Electronic Control Device (ECD) to Conducted Electrical Weapon (CEW). We feel Conducted Electrical Weapon is more descriptive of our products and is becoming a more commonly used term. This term also clearly describes these products as weapons that, like all weapons, carry certain risks and need to be handled and operated appropriately.”

In the company’s statement, “carry certain risks” is the key phrase. What makes less-lethal weapons defendable is their intended use. The purpose is to distract, disorient, and incapacitate, thereby allowing for the officer to successfully control and capture the suspect with little to no injury to both.

Using less-lethal weapons is a viable option but no one should think they are the panacea in use-of-force circumstances. You always need to be prepared to get down and dirty. You also need to keep in mind that unintended injury or death can occur even under the best of conditions.

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Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. He is a retired Master Sergeant from the Army Reserve, has over 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

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