Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement
Compliance in an age of social media and mobile devices
Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement
Over the past 20 years, new technologies have emerged that allow police or law enforcement officials to control suspects who resist compliance while inflicting fewer or less serious injuries. Less lethal weapons in law enforcement provide them with a wider range of options to choose from in dealing with persons who resist police authority, security or the law. Less-lethal weapons can be particularly useful in cases where suspects have a mental illness or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Pepper spray was among the first of the new less-lethal weapons to achieve widespread adoption and more recently, conducted energy devices (CED) such as the Taser device, have become common place (Taser is a registered trademark of Taser International Inc.).
Traditional law enforcement requires officers to use their hands, arms, or bodies to gain control over a suspect. This often puts the officer and/or subject(s) at risk of physical injury. Police less-lethal weapons such as pepper spray and Taser (CED) devices have reduced officer injury risks.
The situation becomes more problematic when the suspect is armed with a knife or dangerous object, but not a firearm. The use of lethal force in these situations has become increasingly politically unacceptable. Less lethal weapons in law enforcement are required to avoid injury to officers in close contact situations. Police focused less-than-lethal weapons such as a 12 gauge shotgun-delivered beanbag or plastic/rubber balls have been used in these situations. The main drawback of 12 gauge-delivered munitions are limitations in their accuracy range and ability to cause unintended injury, particularly to the face and eyes.
Political Considerations In the Application Of Less-Lethal Force
Police are increasingly called upon to enforce the compliance of large groups of people, resulting in the need for safer crowd control weapons and gear. In the wake of the 2008 global financial collapse and the resulting austerity programs put in place worldwide, there is a greater risk of political violence, riots and public disorder. This risk increases the pressure on law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order while preserving the democratic right of lawful assembly.
Today’s mobile phone video cameras and social media applications put police forces under extreme scrutiny like never before. Governments face legal liability issues if unnecessary force is used, causing undue harm to individual subjects.
One must only look at the Occupy Protests, G20 Riots and European austerity protests to understand why police and law enforcement agencies require crowd control weapons that reduce the risk of injury to protesters. Today’s mobile phone video cameras and social media put police forces under extreme scrutiny like never before. Governments face legal liability issues if unnecessary force is used, causing undue harm to individual subjects.
Unsurprisingly, police personnel are demanding access to solutions that fall somewhere between physically charging into a crowd with batons and firing munitions designed to kill targets. If police are equipped and trained in crowd control with less-than-lethal weapons, they can better establish compliance while limiting the consequences of a given situation.
The Need For Tactical Flexibility While Minimizing Injury or Risk
Blunt impact projectiles have the capability to target specific individuals as opposed to spraying or apprehending the entire crowd.
An appropriate response from police to the level of threat also reduces the chance of an uncivil event, escalating. Less-lethal weapons also maintain a buffer zone between the riot control police and the crowd, when employed at a standoff distance. Other benefits of less lethal weapons in law enforcement are specific to the weapon used. For example, blunt impact projectiles have the capability to target specific individuals as opposed to spraying the entire crowd with OC (oleoresin capsicum) or CS (chlorobenzalmalononitrile) gas. This reduces the risk of injury to innocent bystanders as well as authorities from the inevitable political backlash of using OC or CS gas. Streets, neighborhoods and high rise buildings are also spared the discomfort of the OC or CS agent invading their personal environment.
Rubber bullets and foam batons have been put to similar use in crowd control situations recently, but their accuracy is problematic. There is a risk of injury from these munitions and minimum safe distances that must be maintained to reduce the potential for extreme injury and lethality from their use.
Security Devices International
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