"Non-lethal?" I don't think so
|By Cpl. Michael Dzezinski|
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Police Department
(CARLISLE, Pa.) -- We officers see the headlines all the time, "Police use non-lethal rubber bullets to stop knife-wielding man", "Non-lethal beanbag rounds subdue mental subject".
The publicity that accompanies these headlines is usually positive, but is it accurate? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The problem is that the term "non-lethal" simply doesn't apply to most of the less-lethal tools used by many law enforcement agencies today.
I know that this concept probably has some "non-lethal" product manufacturers shaking their heads and saying that their products have never been attributed to causing any deaths; and I can agree with that to some extent. But unfortunately, the majority of the less-lethal devices in the field today work on the concept of pain compliance. More simply put, they work because they cause pain and make suspects want to listen when we tell him to put down the knife and get on the ground.
These pain compliance devices include stun guns, impact projectiles, beanbag rounds and rubber bullets. Given the right circumstances, these tools will likely save many officers from having to go through the trauma of using deadly force.
The problem however, is that the more popular that these less-lethal tools become, the greater perception arises that they're non-lethal and can't kill anyone. The fact is, according to Maj. Steve Ijames of the Springfield, Missouri Police Department who is the less-lethal coordinator for the National Tactical Officers Association ("NTOA"), seven deaths occurred as of xxdate in the U.S. due to less-lethal projectile shots.
I realize that some may feel that I am playing with semantics with the words "non" and "less", but there is a big difference in saying something can't kill and saying that the device or object is less likely to kill.
The hard truth is that these devices, particularly impact projectiles, have the capacity of causing death and serious injury if the subject is struck at a close enough distance or in a critical area like the head.
That a less-lethal device was used in an attempt to de-escalate an incident and perhaps keep the police from having to use deadly force won't matter to anyone who had the assumption beforehand that these devices couldn't cause death.
The fact that less-lethal tools are hitting the streets with such popularity serves as a compliment to every law enforcement agency that has them. I anticipate the day in the not-so-distant future when citizens will expect every department to have some type of less-lethal capability, and that's probably a good thing.
But I think we and the press need to make a conscious effort to make sure that the public knows that devices like beanbag rounds will always cause some type of injury and that a totally non-lethal law enforcement tool may not exist.
About the Author: Cpl. Mike Dzezinski has been an officer with the Carlisle, Pennsylvania Police Department for the past six years and an NTOA-certified less-lethal instructor for the past five years. Dzezinski's responsibilities include Special Response Team training for the Carlisle and Cumberland County Special Response Teams.
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