Definition and explanation of less-lethal

Non-Lethal Weapons - This term is used to describe weapons that are not fundamentally designed to kill or cause serious bodily injury. However the munitions deployed from these non-lethal weapons may; in extremely rare cases injure a person to the degree which may result in death under unique circumstances. Based upon a calculated risk factor, the chances of injury meeting the deadly force definition are only marginal. It is true that non-lethal weapons and tactics have been attributed to deaths both in the United States of America and Internationally. If lethality levels increase to beyond statistical outliers the weapon should be reclassified. At this time there are no national or industry standards for these weapons or munitions.

The use of non-lethal technology is a great benefit for law enforcement, corrections, and military professionals providing them with still another force option within their complete force continuum. Non-Lethal weapons are engineered to save lives including the life of the officer involved, the subjects involved and the public who may be third party to an incident.

Case in Point: An air launcher by design is used to deploy a small rounded sphere which is light weight and constructed of either frangible plastic or special gelatin. This unique round can be filled with water, inert powder, non toxic marking solution, or a chemical formulation, such as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) PAVA (synthetic OC), CS, or CN. These rounds use the affects of kinetic energy and the chemical payload to generate results.

Some rounds are specially designed to break tempered glass such as side car windows, residential glass and other items made out of a hard plastic. Once deployed the round is designed to deliver solely kinetic energy into the target area to effectively shatter it. It then breaks apart on impact into smaller non lethal fragments. These rounds can vary in velocity. Sometimes they are factory set. Other times they can be adjusted by the user. As velocity increases, so does the potential lethality of the round. Some companies who declare their weapons as "non-lethal" have intensified the velocity beyond the threshold of a true non-lethal round. Medical science can be consulted to determine the injury factor for specific rounds and their likelihood of lethality. A classification of police equipment is best left to product testing and science rather that corporate claim.

Less-Than Lethal - By definition, 'less-than-lethal' implies a greater likelihood of serious bodily injury or death over 'non-lethal'. There is a greater tolerance in the industry for the lethality level which is considered inherent in the margin of error. This term is ordinarily prescribed for various munitions deployed from higher velocity -lethal weapons, batons, electronic devices and is some venues chemical agents.

Less-Lethal - Recalling that Lethal Weapons are 'likely to cause death or great bodily harm', less-lethal weapons will continue to pose a great risk of lethal injures, but do not measure up to the definition of "likely". Various Specialty Impact Munitions meet this definition, others do not. Factors that influence the fine divide between 'less-lethal' and 'lethal' are mass, velocity and payload content.

Specialty Impact Munitions - Used to describe projectiles that are not fundamentally designed to cause serious bodily injury or death. However, as stated under certain circumstances these munitions can, and have caused lethal injuries.

Examples of Specialty Impact Munitions

    1. Solid Filled Rounds (OC, PAVA, , Training Powder, Marking)
    2. Liquid filled Rounds (Water, Inert and Innocuous liquids, paint)
    3. Foam Baton Round (Deployed out of 37/40MM)
    4. Rubber Pellets (Deployed out of 12 Gauge or 37/40MM)
    5. Rubber Balls (Deployed out of 31. 32. 60 Caliber / (12 Gauge or 37/40MM)
    6. Fin Stabilize Round (Deployed out of 12 Gauge)
    7. Rubber Baton Round (Deployed out of 37/40MM)
    8. Wood Baton Round (Deployed out of 37/40MM)
    9. Bean Bag Round (Deployed out of 12 Gauge or 37/40MM)

About the author

Dave Young is the Founder and Director of ARMA, now part of the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also the Chairman of Advisory Board, and a training advisor for Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 25 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

Dave has participated in and trained both military and law enforcement personnel in crowd management operations throughout the world. Dave is recognized as one of the nation's leading defensive tactics instructors specializing in crowd management, chemical and specialty impact munitions, protocol and selection of gear and munitions, ground defense tactics, and water - based defensive tactics.

He has hosted television shows for National Geographic TV Channel on Non Lethal Weapons and the host of Crash Test Human series.  He is a former staff noncommissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, a member of the Police Magazine advisory board, and a technical advisory board member for Force Science Research Center. Dave is an active member of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET), International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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