How to buy less lethal
Editor’s Note: This resource, which originally appeared in 2009, has been updated in places to include information that has become available since its initial distribution.
Less lethal weapons have changed the way law enforcers respond to potential threats. Some agencies have been able to embrace this change but others continue to be held back by a skeptical public (and opposing political forces). As time goes on, hopefully the bias against less-lethal weaponry goes away as the benefits out weigh the concerns. These devices are force multipliers that assist agencies in accomplishing their mission without having to jeopardize an officer’s safety.
Less-lethal weapons are broken up into several different categories — you will want to consider each of them, remembering that you're probably best served with a good mix of these.
1. Electrical Devices: these devices are designed to deliver an electrical charge to the muscular and neural areas. Below is a list of what types of these devices exist now.
a. Stun guns – Stuns guns are fired by depressing a trigger or button when the two conductors make contact with the skin. The officer must be in touching distance to employ this device, making it only useful in hand-to-hand combat. As long as the probes make contact with the target area while the device is activated, the subject should be temporarily disabled.
b. Projected dart systems – These devices can offer more range and distance from the threat, with distances varying from 10-30 feet based on the cartridge being used. Some have battery indicators on the device to help with confirmation of operational capabilities, some discharge two or four darts into the targeted subject and some even have ICAM capabilities.
c. Wireless projectile – These can be fired from a shotgun, some offering an extended range up to 50 feet. At times these can be mistaken for the many other rounds that can be fired from a shotgun.
d. Shock Shields – These work when the conductor strips on the front of the shield are activated by a trigger or button at the back of the shield. When the conductor strips make contact with skin, the shield sends a charge into the targeted area. Like the stun guns, they are only effective within touching distance and when the trigger or button is released the device stops sending its charge.
2. Chemical Munitions: Chemical munitions are a great tool within the less-lethal weapons tool box. However there are still many different assumptions and myths of what these munitions will and will not do.
These are deployed in either grenade form, or projectiles shot from launchers and 12-gauge shotguns. Below are the various options:
a. Blast Dispersions – Blast dispersions are generally in a powdered composition and need to have a blast or detonator to help with hitting the target area. This powder primarily affects the respiratory system.
b. Fogging Systems – These use a liquid base to run through a machine that creates a fog and smoke screen pattern. We do not recommend them for indoor use.
c. Pyrotechnics – These are in a solid chemical composition that need to be burned at high degree of temperature to release the smoke or chemical agents. Burning these agents is one of the most effective ways to deploy chemicals. Smoke agents come in fast and slow burning versions.
d. Projectiles – These are fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. Some of these munitions can be confusing so make sure you are briefed on what you are using and or purchasing. Some of these may be fired indirectly at a crowd or person; others may cause serious bodily injury if fired at a subject. Some only discharge a blast of powder. Short range will go 75 yards and long range can reach 150 yards.
e. Grenades – These can have safeties placed on the fuses. Some are pyrotechnic and create a lot of heat which may cause a fire if not monitored. Make sure to read up on the contents if it’s a smoke bomb, as some smoke is safe and others can be carcinogenic(CK). They burn at various times and have various amounts of chemical agents based on size and delivery system. They come in three sizes: pocket size, military style, and handball.
3. Specialty Impact Munitions: Specialty Impact Munitions over the last 19 years have taken on new expectations. These are munitions designed to have both physical and mental effects by impacting the body, creating blunt trauma, and inevitably distract or deter the target.
a. Air Launchers – There are two kinds of weapon systems that use compressed air to fire munitions, and that’s their only similarity:
I. Pepperball Gun – Has a maximum effective range of 60 feet, uses a 250-round hopper, and newer versions can shoot single, semi-auto and full auto. There are five types of ammunition for this weapon – Pava OC Round, Water Round, Purple Powder Training Round, Green Marking Round, and the solid white plastic glass shattering round.
II. FN303 – Has a maximum effective range of 50 meters, uses a 15-round magazine, and hits with a 16 pound to 24 pound force. (It’s also more expensive.) It has four types of ammunition – OC Round, Powder Training Round, Temporary Marking Round, and the Permanent Marking Round -- which are aerodynamically designed for great distance. At times these are not recommended for close distances due to the possibility of causing lethal injuries.
b. 12 Gauge – These munitions are fired using black powder and at times can be lethal if the user is not properly trained. Some munitions can deliver pain for compliance and deliver chemicals, based on distance from threat, target area, size of target, clothing and other known and unknown factors. The types of rounds available are 31. or .32 Caliber Rubber Pellets (high or low velocity,) Single or triple 60 Caliber Rubber Balls and bean bags.
c. 37 MM and 40MM – These are some of the oldest impact weapons, using black or smokeless powder, but unlike the shotgun, these come with both smooth bore and rifled barrels. They come in various size casing and fire several types of rounds, including rubber pellets; rubber balls; foam, rubber, and wooded baton rounds; and for the 40MM only, spin stabilized sponge rounds.
4. Grenades: Most less-lethal grenades produce a loud “bang,” emit some light and heat, and discharge powder chemicals, small rubber pellets or a combination of chemicals, pellets into the intended target area. There are Hornet Nests/Stinger Balls, which are considered separating fuse munitions because the device goes off when the fuse kicks from the body, thereby limiting its possibility of becoming a projectile.
5. Distraction Devices: These devices are designed to create a pause in combat emitting heat, light and sound. Distraction devices or “Flash Bangs,” have been a proven tool within the non lethal weapons tool box. They have evolved from the earlier models over time and now offer a powerful punch that creates pauses in combat giving the officer the tactical advantage.
Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and chemical munitions? Please leave a comment below or email email@example.com with your feedback.
PoliceOne Contributor Dave Young, who also serves as Director of Specialized Programs for Northcentral Technical College - RedMan Training Division, assisted in the creation of this report.
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