By RK MILLER
One summer, 12-gauge beanbags had just been developed for law enforcement. When a manufacturer’s rep provided some rounds, I thought we had an additional tool to deal with the rioters.
During a night of knuckleheads trying to take over the streets, I issued some of these to two team members with instructions to stay with me. If I directed them to use less lethal, they were to fire at the designated suspects. Fortunately, the opportunity never presented itself.
As our less-lethal program developed and matured, I recognized how flawed this plan was. We had no less-lethal policy or procedures. The officers involved had no experience with these rounds, and we didn’t even think about making sure we put the right ammunition in the shot- guns. There were no safety and operational guidelines, let alone a defined training program. We lacked any semblance of understanding of the broader tactical aspects attached to incorporating less lethal. More importantly, when it came to liability exposure, it could place officers and the department in a potentially bad situation. Big mistake. Not too long after that summer, policy, procedures and training were adopted to fill this less-lethal vacuum.
WHAT IS “LESS LETHAL”?
From my experience, the term “less lethal” sometimes creates a complacent attitude among police officers of all ranks. Managers may not grasp that these munitions are still capable of causing serious injury or death. At the other end of the spectrum, officers may be complacent when it comes to less lethal because of the connotation. (I personally prefer “extended range, kinetic energy impact munitions” but “less lethal” is more widely used.) A good training program can help prevent this from becoming a lawsuit-generating issue.
This includes adopting safety rules specific to less-lethal use. Most of you are familiar with the cardinal rules of firearms safety. What follows can be used to augment these
in the less-lethal realm. As a side note, I tend to use “less- lethal launcher” more than, for example, “shotgun.” This is because the launcher has a different intent attached to it. Using the right words is a liability-driven concept similar in philosophy to not calling a diversionary device a grenade. In both cases, the terminology is more precise to the purpose of the tool.
I started off by confessing my own improper approach to less lethal. I’m lucky I didn’t get slammed with “What-the-hell-were-you-thinking?” questioning; I surely would have if a worst-case scenario developed that crazy summer night. I’ve learned a lot since then. This article is intended to share some of those lessons. There have been too many incidents where officers have not been trained in these six basic less- lethal safety rules. My hope is that these guidelines will be adopted in one form or another appropriate to your agency. Through them we can do a better job of minimizing the potential for a less-lethal program to turn tragically lethal.
Train safe. God bless America.
This article was originally published in the January 2012 issue of Law Officer Magazine.