Less Lethal a la Carte

Now more than ever, law enforcement officers have myriad tools to choose from when it comes to less- and non-lethal force options. Although this is a positive development, it can also present a challenge for individual officers, as well as the department, when it comes to purchasing, training and justifying the particular tool in a use-of-force complaint or lawsuit.

The focus of this article will remain less- and non-lethal tools that can be worn by officers as standard duty gear, as opposed to other tools that primarily remain in the patrol car until needed (these include extended-range kinetic energy munitions like 12-gauge and 40-mm, launched projectiles).

A Sea of Options

I’m a firm believer that officers who are comfortable and confident with their equipment are more likely to use their force options more appropriately than those who aren’t. That said, I also believe that most individual officer equipment should be the officer’s choosing. For example, on my department the following impact tools are authorized: straight baton, ASP, PR-24, OPNs, flashlights and even saps. On any given patrol shift, we have officers who carry one or more of these tools. The important thing isn’t what the officer chooses to carry, but their ability to employ it effectively, consistent with department policy.

Impact weapons: Some type of impact weapon should be a departmental requirement. Impact weapons are versatile as striking implements to elicit pain compliance, as well as tools to break glass when forcing entry into a car or structure.

There are pros and cons to each of the numerous options available. A cautionary note: For those who elect to carry a telescoping-type impact weapon, it must be tested to ensure that it will not unintentionally close when being used to directly thrust, as opposed to a downward or sideways strike. Another consideration: the ability to carry the chosen tool on your duty belt rather than the vehicle. Tools left in the vehicle tend to be left behind during traffic stops and other dynamic situations where the officer must rapidly exit their patrol car.

Stun devices: When it comes to electro-muscular disruption devices, the Taser is obviously the most popular choice. The evolution of the Taser as a less-lethal tool for law enforcement is an amazing story in itself. Although there are newer products currently offered by Taser—namely, the X3 and the Exrep cartridge fired from a 12-gauge shotgun—the current industry standard is the X-26. If I were limited to just one less or non-lethal tool, the X-26 would be my first choice. It’s easy to carry on the duty belt or concealed; doesn’t require any real degree of maintenance; and, in my experience, is exceptionally effective.

Sprays: Although mace (CS teargas) was once popular, the current standard in chemical agents carried by individual law enforcement personnel is oleoresin capsicum (OC) “pepper spray.” Available in a variety of canister sizes, this is a standard item of equipment adorning Sam Brownes across the country. In addition to being effective against human threats, it’s also generally effective at deterring aggressive dogs (unlike the older CS, which was ineffective against dogs due to their lack of tear ducts).


How to Carry

Whether you’re working a uniformed patrol/SRO/traffic assignment or a plainclothes investigative assignment (not an undercover assignment), carrying the same equipment in the same location is extremely important. It’s easiest to maintain consistency in uniformed assignments.

For new officers, I recommend they query other officers as to why they carry their gear they way they do. The new officer should then try a few different methods of carrying their own gear on their duty belt.

Veteran Las Vegas Metro Police Officer Bob Hindi has developed what he calls the “Hindi Duty Belt S.A.F.E.T.Y. (an acronym for Safer Accessibility and Faster, more Effective Tactics for You) System.” Hindi’s recommendation for duty belt set-up is based upon logical, proven defensive tactics techniques. A thorough explanation of this system may be found by going to www.lawofficer.com and plugging in “Hindi.”

A plainclothes detective should also maintain consistency with their equipment and have a minimum of one (two is preferable) less- and non-lethal tools at their immediate disposal—not back in the Ford Taurus. A plaintiff’s attorney will score huge points in a lawsuit against an officer who deploys deadly force if the officer didn’t have any less or non-lethal equipment. Even if the officer would not have deployed the lesser level of force due to the circumstances, the mere lack of lesser force options will be used against the officer and agency to demonstrate a lack of due regard for life.

Note: If a detective is wearing plainclothes but wearing an external vest carrier, they should distribute their equipment where they can readily access it. Again, familiarity and consistency will be acquired and maintained only via proper training.

Regardless of assignment, I’m a firm believer that officers who maintain two or three less lethal tools at their immediate disposal are more prepared. Less than two doesn’t provide the necessary back-up, and more than three may require too much thought process in a dynamic situation: As the officer processes the pros and cons of each of the tools at their disposal, critical moments are lost.


Practice—& Practice More

Once your officers have decided a manner of gear placement that seems best suited for them, the next step is simple: practice, practice, practice!

I’ve repeatedly seen officers on the range reach for equipment that’s not where it’s “supposed” to be. This is because the officer has not maintained consistency and/or hasn’t sufficiently trained. It’s especially important for an officer who has recently transferred from a uniformed assignment to a plainclothes assignment or vice-versa to find what works best for them and to then train to “muscle memory”—that is, to the point where grabbing what they want is second nature. Once developed, the proficiency must then be maintained through ongoing practice.

I encourage officers to practice accessing their equipment in complete darkness, with both their right and left hands, as well as from standing, kneeling and prone positions. Why? Because violent confrontations with suspects are dynamic. An officer may be forced to straddle a suspect and access their sidearm, Taser, chemical agent canister, impact weapon or handcuffs in the dark with only one hand. That’s a lot to master. Once again, proficiency comes down to practice.

My agency’s defensive tactics trainers teach a “two-officer” takedown technique of suspects that involves one officer “going high” (above the suspect’s waist) and the other officer “going low” (below the suspect’s waist to control the legs). Eventually, the two officers and the suspect end up on the ground. Familiarity of equipment placement (or lack thereof) becomes readily apparent as the officers attempt to subdue and restrain the suspect. Officers must be able to efficiently and effectively access and deploy the appropriate tool to overcome the suspect’s resistance.

On this topic, it’s important to touch upon Graham v. Connor. Out of the many positives for law enforcement of this landmark case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the opinions rendered was that the decision made by the officer did not have to be the best decision, only that it be a reasonable decision. What does this mean for the deployment of equipment? Simply, the tool selected doesn’t have to be the best, it just must be reasonable. For example, would an impact made by an ASP be better or worse that an impact with a PR-24?

Officers should be trained to understand both the capabilities as well as the limitations of any/all equipment they carry. Training proper deployment of less lethal weapons should include serious discussion about the immediate availability of lethal cover when a less lethal force option is being considered. In a preplanned arrest event—which may include in-progress incidents that have become static for an extended period, such as a lone subject threatening suicide—designating a team leader, less-lethal-option delivery officer and lethal cover officer is a good idea.

Proper communication is always essential to a successful outcome. Current case law dictates that, when feasible, a warning is given prior to the delivery of less- or non-lethal force options. An announcement of the pending deployment serves two purposes: First, it provides the suspect a final opportunity to surrender before force is used upon them. Second, it gives notice to other officers that a less or non-lethal tool is being deployed so as to prevent potential “sympathetic fire” of lethal munitions.



Officers should be familiar with their agency’s policies regarding force option tools available to them. For example, does your agency authorize the use of a flashlight as an impact weapon? They must also understand the proper use of each tool, and the required medical care and documentation post-use. An agency’s defensive tactics training cadre should include in-house less- and non-lethal experts.

Finally, the most critical component in officer safety is proper training. It’s incumbent upon the agency and the officer to ensure that an officer has the training and equipment to prevail in all use of force encounters. Remember: Train not just to win, but to dominate.


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