Less Lethal Weapons
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Less than Lethal Weapons
Less than lethal weapons were developed to provide law enforcement, corrections, and military personnel with an alternative to lethal force. The term less lethal weapons refers to weapons such as bean bag shotshells, rubber bullets, and electronic stun devices to name a few. They are designed to temporarily incapacitate, confuse, delay, or restrain a suspect in a variety of situations. They have been used primarily in on-the-street confrontations and suicide interventions, but have also been applied in riots, prison disturbances, and hostage rescues.
The concept of less lethal weaponry is not new. Law enforcement has long operated with what is called a “continuum of force.” It provides guidance to officers for selecting the type of weaponry to use in a variety of situations. The continuum normally begins with asking a subject to respond to voice commands. If the subject does not respond, the continuum may advise that the next level of force be used, in many cases, pepper spray (Pearson, 2003). If the subject is wielding a firearm, lethal force may then be used. Law enforcement has long recognized that a wide and dangerous gap exists in the range of tools available to them. The only tools traditionally available, baton or gun, may be either too weak or too strong a response to some situations. This fact became clear after the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner that the use of deadly force to apprehend apparently unarmed, nonviolent fleeing felons was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment (Pearson, 2003). Edwin Meese, who was Attorney General at the time, called a conference to address the need for alternatives to deadly force. As a result of this conference, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) established a less-than-lethal technologies program. Through this program, NIJ seeks technologies that provide new or significantly improved less lethal options to law enforcement and corrections professionals to enable them to reduce the number of deaths and injuries to suspects (Hart, 2002).
Types of Weapons
There are six general categories of less lethal weapons that currently exist or are in development: impact projectile, electrical shock, chemical, physical restraint, light, and acoustic.
There are a large number of manufacturers producing a wide variety of impact munitions. These impact projectiles are designed to deliver non-penetrating contact energy from a safer distance than a police baton (James, 2002). One such type of weapon, which has been in use for about 30 years, is the beanbag (Wilmette, 2002). Beanbags refer to square, rectangular, or circular fabric bags that contain lead shot. The round is intended to flatten on impact, hitting face on, and spread its energy over a large area. When manufactured, the beanbags are rolled into a 12 gauge shot shell. After leaving the muzzle, the bags unroll and rotate into the flat orientation to strike the target broadside. The lead shot acts like a fluid medium that distributes its kinetic energy over the surface contact area. The bag collapses and delivers a solid blow. The impact is comparable to being struck with a baseball traveling at 95 miles per hour or being punched by a professional boxer (Wilmette, 2000).
If the bag hits before it is completely unfurled or on an edge-on orientation, the full force of the impact is distributed over a smaller area, usually causing more damage. Square beanbags have been in use for many years and have been extensively tested for safety under the prescribed use conditions (Wilmette, 2002). The head, throat and face are not considered acceptable targets because the bags will almost certainly cause serious injury, if not death. The bags must deliver a blow sufficient to produce pain and induce compliance from uncooperative and aggressive suspects, so the torso was once considered the most appropriate target for the bags (Wilmette, 2002). However, because of the potential for causing damage to the chest by blunt trauma, the recommended point of aim is the center of the body or the belly button hold. Unfortunately, because of their shape, these beanbag rounds are widely inaccurate and have been known to veer off course and strike individuals elsewhere on the body causing serious injuries.
Improving on the square beanbags, researchers developed sock rounds. These rounds are designed to have no edges or corners that could lead to penetration and tend to have a tail to aid stabilization in flight. These sock rounds as well as the beanbag rounds are typically launched from a pump-action shotgun or a single round tear gas gun. The type of clothing worn by the suspect will affect