The Use of Less Lethal Weapons in Corrections, Part 5 — Impact Weapons
At the high end of less lethal force options are weapons whose primary function is to deliver kinetic energy. The problem with these weapons and munitions is that there are almost too many to choose from.
You have your choice of .68 caliber, 12 gauge, 37mm or 40mm platforms. Some have rifled barrels. Some are smooth bore. These weapons can fire baton rounds (made of foam, plastic, rubber, Styrofoam or wood), drag-stabilized, fin-stabilized, pads (rectangular or round), pellets (large or small), or encapsulated rounds that can be filled with everything from chemical agents to marking dyes. And most of these rounds can be fired with either black powder or smokeless powder.
It would be easy to get swallowed up in this subject. The easiest way to approach it is to look at what your needs are and how impact weapons will fit into your overall tactical strategy.
There are really only two types of problems in corrections where impact weapons are likely to come into play: disturbances and cell extractions. You could add hostage situations, but they are rare and a unique animal that call for the introduction of deadly force and SWAT tactics which are beyond the scope of this series. That said if impact weapons are to be used in disturbances and cell extractions, then what is their role and how do they fit in with the other tools we have already discussed?
Should this prove insufficient a volley of noise/flash distraction devices followed by the limited introduction of a response team is usually enough to bring the situation to a satisfactory end. In less than one in ten incidents are inmates still standing after a team makes entry and refuse to surrender. These inmates are the ones volunteering to be shot with impact weapons. These are usually the shot-callers. So I like to think of impact weapons as shot-caller removal tools.
The question now is what weapon do you want to fire that is the most reliable and can deliver the most accurate round. Also, what is the effective range of that round? Some 37mm rounds claim to be accurate up to 100 meters. This is great if, A: the inmate stands still and waits for the round to reach him, B: nobody else steps in the way and takes the hit before the round gets there and C: your personnel train regularly with these weapons and practice taking these long shots, often from elevated platforms such as guard towers, under stress. For these reasons shots beyond 50 meters are highly problematic. This is still a long distance and is well beyond what will be required in almost all indoor problems.
Ken Hubbs’s and David Klinger’s study for the National Institute of Justice on the use and effects of impact munitions found that 88% of field encounters occur at less than 40 feet and 70% occur at less than 30 feet. This report was also significant for it showed that in 60% of incidents the firing of a second round was required to achieve incapacitation. No comparable study of impact weapons in a correctional setting has been done, but it is likely that the average distances for use in corrections are similar. Uses in cell extractions are more numerous than those in jail disturbances and no doubt negate the longer shots taken in yard disturbances. This, of course, is the shortcoming of drawing conclusions from averages. You know best the situations you are likely to encounter and should select your weapons and ammo based on the scenarios you most probably will encounter.
Using impact weapons in cell extractions presents a different set of problems. The maximum effective range is not the primary concern. The minimum safe distance the round can be fired is the issue? Also, is a shot available in the target area recommended by the manufacturer for that given round? Most manufacturers are now recommending that center mass shots be avoided and ordnance be fired waist or below, or at the extremities. The use of impact weapons in cell extractions is also complicated by the fact that most inmates are aware of our tactics and barricade their cells and don their own makeshift protective gear. Almost all less lethal rounds will be defeated by a jail mattress.
There is a temptation to want to shoot the mattress out of an inmate’s hands, but this should be avoided. If an inmate plays peek-a-boo with his mattress at the wrong moment, the chance of shooting him in the face arises. The best way to create a shot in the cell when an inmate is holding a mattress is to introduce a Noise Flash Diversionary Device and then take the shot in the window of opportunity that is created when the inmate is disoriented and lowers his protective barrier. The introduction of chemical agents or Pepperball rounds may create this effect, as well, but an NFDD is more likely to yield positive results.
A Few Things That Are Good to Know
Blunt Trauma, Penetrating Trauma and Fluid Shock
A small or frail individual is far more likely to sustain significant injury due to fluid shock. That is one reason why aim points are so critical and is also why most manufacturers are recommending the waist and below and the extremities as targets for munitions instead of center mass when firing munitions delivering significant amounts of kinetic energy. Fluid shock on high energy rounds fired center mass can and have stopped hearts. When they strike an inmate in the head they can have the same result that they did on baseball field in Tulsa.
One fatality resulted in Boston from an FN303 round that was fired indiscriminately into a crowd of rowdy Red Sox fans celebrating the team’s historic comeback from a three game deficit against the hated Yankees in the 2004 league championship series. The round penetrated the eye of sixteen year old girl Victoria Snelgrove, an innocent bystander in the crowd, and killed her. Some early less lethal shotgun rounds that were not drag stabilized also caused penetrating trauma.
Some of these rounds are still out there and should be avoided. When fired properly, from the right distance, with due consideration to aim point, the majority of less lethal impact munitions will be effective and not lethal. Penn Arms SL-6 (37mm)
Penn Arms SL-6 (37mm)
In 2000 the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, in a joint venture with Penn State University’s Institute for Nonlethal Defense Technologies, conducted testing on 79 different impact munitions. The results of that study showed that drag-stabilized munitions have the greatest amount of trajectory degradation and fin-stabilized and rectangular pads were next.
Direct Fire vs. Skip Fire
37mm vs. 40mm
The 40mm platforms are also more versatile and allow you to fire just about everything through them. You will need at least two different 37mm platforms to accomplish a mission that can be accomplished by one 40mm. What you lose with the 40mm is that the size of the magazine will not permit you to fire eight inch projectiles and the maximum range of projectiles is about 40 yards. But as was noted above, it is highly unlikely that you are going to hit a moving target while under stress at distance with a round that travels at only about 325 feet per second.
Pepperball Guns vs. the FN303
A Pepperball gun does have a 250 round hopper contrasted with the 15 round magazine in the FN303, so more rounds are available, but the FN303 is the most accurate of all impact weapons. Its munitions are fin-stabilized. Pepperball rounds are subject to the elements. The FN303 can also be outfitted with an EO Tech holographic site to even increase its accuracy.
For area treatment of chemicals the Pepperball gun is the clear winner, but if it is your intention to deliver kinetic energy on a target the FN303 is the superior weapon. The new generation TAC 700 Pepperball gun provides the option of three preset modes: single, three burst and full automatic.
I would caution against the full auto setting, but the three burst mode is very effective. There are pros and cons to both weapons platforms as a kinetic energy platform. The deal breaker for the FN303 for many agencies may be its cost and the bum rap it got because of Victoria Snelgrove’s death in Boston.
Less Lethal Shotguns
The World in Which We Live
Simplicity is one of General JFC Fuller’s nine principles of war. Impact weapon platforms and munition options are numerous. Unless you can afford to keep and train a response team to almost SWAT levels, do not overwhelm yourself and your personnel with too many weapons and different types of munitions. One training adage states, “You can train to a higher level than you can maintain.” Keep this in mind when selecting your impact weapon platforms and munitions.
If you can only afford to purchase and train on one platform, I would recommend the six shot 40mm. An EO Tech holographic site is also available for this weapon, though the bead site it comes with is very good. The 40mm offers almost all the different munition options you should need. The 40mm eXact impact sponge round hits with 80 to 108 foot pounds of energy and is effective out to 120 feet. This round is a great option. For times when you might need to engage multiple targets at once, or it might be necessary to skip rounds around a barricade, multiple pellet rounds or foam rounds are also available to accomplish this mission. I would load only one type of munition in a weapon at one time, however. This will require you to have at least two weapons available, but this is still your most cost effective option.
If you can afford to purchase and train on additional platforms, consider the FN303 for longer shots. The Tac 700 version of the Pepperball gun is also another good support weapon because it gives you the ability to saturate an area with OC in addition to giving you secondary kinetic support, but its uses as an impact weapon outdoors and at distances is limited.
Remember, in keeping with the overarching philosophy for less lethal weapons use, impact weapons are only part of a larger tactical plan and their effects need to be reversible over time. The use of impact weapons may temporarily take down a shot-caller or clear an area of inmates, but some other tactic must ensue to end your problem and shot placement is critical to ensure that use of these weapons does not result in serious injury. Take a good hard look at all the weapons and munitions out there before deciding what works best for you.
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