In today’s dynamic society, law enforcement officers need a variety of tools to effectively and safely combat problematic scenarios. Due to the advent of new technology, law enforcement is given new options in dealing with uncooperative subjects that they may encounter in the line of duty. I will discuss three technological advances that have given law enforcement officers an edge in dealing with hostile situations, and resolving them with minimum use of force.
In June 1994, a non-firearm version of a non-lethal stun gun called “Taser” was developed. The basic idea behind the taser is to have a less than lethal force option that has a low possibility for injury and a high possibility for compliance. The model of the taser I will discuss is the X26. The taser X26 is a small portable handheld device that resembles a firearm in shape. Instead of having a magazine with ammunition, there is a removable cartridge that affixes to the front end of the taser. When the taser is deployed, two barbed darts are propelled by nitrogen gas through the air at a maximum distance of twenty-five feet. Attached to the darts are electric cables that transport a high-voltage, low-amperage electrical charge from the taser to a suspect. The high-voltage, low-amperage design is what makes this type of electricity less than lethal. This electric charge mimics the body’s own electrical signals.
The charge combines with the electrical signals from the suspect’s brain making it difficult for the suspect to control his muscles and causes a high degree of pain compliance. A standard cycle lasts five seconds, but can be repeated by depressing the trigger again if needed. In close proximity, the cartridge can be removed and can be placed directly against the suspect and activated. This “drive stun” technique is not as effective as deploying the probes, but is still very efficient. From my own experience using this device in real world situations, I have seen that this device is ideal in many scenarios, but there are some downfalls of this device. If one of the probes misses or the electric cable breaks, the taser will not work. Both probes must make and maintain contact to work. Also, the further apart the probes “the spread”, the more effective they are. If the spread of the probes isn’t great, the effect will be present but minimal.
The long range acoustic device (LRAD) is a crowd-control and combatant-deterrent sonic weapon developed by American Technology Corporation. This device uses sound waves to deliver warnings to large crowds, or it can exceed a pitch threshold of pain and create painful sounds. Some examples of sound: a normal conversation is 60 dB (decibels), a lawn mower is 90 dB, LRAD maximum normal volume is 120 dB, the threshold of pain is 130 dB (depending on the person’s tolerance), and the LRAD maximum volume with override is 146 dB (continual) or 151 dB (burst). Through LRAD’s design, it can focus irritating volume at a specific area which is useful for both crowds and individuals. In November 2005, pirates attacked the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit off the coast of Somalia. The pirates were in a small boat, but they had machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The cruise ship, on the other hand, had a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) which it used to drive off the pirates, leaving the Seabourn Spirit unscathed. The LRAD can be set on the appropriate mode to either deliver warnings or be set to deliver the painful sounds.
The third less than lethal weapon I will discuss is pepper spray. Pepper spray in its most basic form is Oleoresin Capsicum. Pepper spray is a lachrymatory inflammatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain and even temporary blindness). Pepper spray is available in varying strengths and bases. For example, my police department uses a 5.5% pepper spray with a water base. We use a water base because sprays with alcohol bases are flammable. The 5.5% defines the amount of the active ingredient. The strength of pepper spray is determined on a scale called Scoville Heat Units, and the higher the number the “hotter” it is. Pepper spray has very definite pros and cons, and it’s either a good choice or a bad choice for any given scenario. The advantage of pepper spray is that it limits a person’s ability to see and breathe taking the fight out of them. It is quickly deployable and light weight usually carried in a small container on the officer’s belt. Cons are that a suspect who is determined enough can fight through the effect of pepper spray. Also, if you use pepper spray in a confined area you will also feel its effects. This can be overcome through training and experience, but you will still have a physical reaction. Inexperienced officers may also try to spray someone who is upwind and spray themselves.
The options I have discussed are just a small portion of a law enforcement officer’s toolbox. Every tool has its proper use and mistakes are costly. Even though these tools are less than lethal, there are still consequences for if they are used improperly. Law enforcement officers must consider the scenario, risk, other options, and make the basic evaluation, “Is this use of force reasonable and appropriate?”
There are no cure all items that will be perfect for every situation, but the more tools you have at your disposal, the more likely you will have the one that will fit best.
· Anglen, Robert. “Taser tied to ‘independent’ study that backs stun gun.” The Arizona Republic. May 21, 2005.
· Johnson, Kevin. “Taser contributes to police families.” USA Today. April 24, 2005.
· Taser research marred by conflicts.” Vermont Huardian. May 23, 2005.
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Police Chief Magazine
· Westphal, Lonnie J. “The In-Car Camera: Value and Impact.” The Police Chief, 8 August 2004: 8. Vol. 71