If you’re a baby boomer, chances are when you started out in law enforcement your less than lethal weapons options were limited. If you were in an escalating situation where verbal commands verbal judo wasn’t working, your next best course of action was probably cold cocking someone in the jaw, “Kel” lighting him, or maybe using a slapjack on the perp.
But as times changed and police brutality cases became more frequent, a new generation of law enforcement officer joined the ranks — one that could be called “more politically correct” — and they adopted a force continuum with less lethal weapons such as batons and chemical and OC sprays.
It wasn’t long before even more creativity and advancement came along with bean bag and rubber ball rounds for the 12 gauge, and innovative less lethal ways of stopping vehicular pursuits included the spike strips and the PIT maneuver.
Police accountability, abuse of power, and even more liberal views from the courts have brought about an age where we as cops are almost expected to be assaulted before we can act as necessary, and even after we do, we are subject to internal and criminal investigations and sometimes left out in the cold as far as our rights being protected for doing our jobs.
Now, less lethal weaponry has evolved into incapacitating force with such options as the TASER® Electronic Control Device, electric transport belts, and stun-cuffs, all the while being recorded by digital recording devices attached to our vehicles, uniforms, heads, or all of the above.
The point of all this is, there are a number of less lethal options and each has its place — it’s the perpetrator’s actions, their resistance, and the threat they preset which determines which tool you pull from the Batman belt.
In the generations to come, there will no doubt be more new tools and weapons to hit the law enforcement marketplace. Some may be good, others not so good. But the one thing we as cops must always remember is the old saying, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”
Deciding on the necessary force, and which weapon to use to deliver that force, is often a split-second decision for an officer. Whatever force you choose will eventually be scrutinized by your department, the courts, and the media. Having the most up-to-date training and instruction on less lethal options will better prepare you for any future confrontations. We must always be aware of our surroundings — including sizing up the suspects confronting us — and must never rule out (or be afraid to use) deadly force if that means protecting our lives or the lives of others.
All three generations — Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials — are working side by side out on the beat, and I believe that each generation has something they can share with the other to help us all become better officers. And think about this: the cops who have not yet even entered the academy will almost certainly make regular use of crowd control devices that rely entirely on sound!
Discussing use-of-force situations that officers have encountered in their careers is a good way to calculate if the situation would be handled differently (or with different levels of force, or with newer less lethal options) today than when it occurred in the past. Younger officers should actively seek out those discussions with the cops who have a few years under their belts, and hashes on their sleeves. On the other side of that coin, the “old guys” can really learn some innovative new things being taught in academy training that didn’t even exist “back in the day.”
I won’t be “shocked” the next time I whip out my baton, ready to land a strike to a suspect’s forearm, only to watch him hit the concrete in .03 seconds because the young rookie next to me has already deployed a TASER round into the combative perp.
I may crack a smile at that rookie while he is filling out his report, then Veteran Bob and I just might head out to dinner to discuss over a cheeseburger how that scenario would have played out “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.”