Were lethal weapons needed here?

Police receive a 911 call because a man is running naked and unarmed into oncoming traffic on a street in Los Angeles. A car hits the man, and he is tossed to the ground. But in a matter of seconds, he gets up and starts charging toward police officers, who have just arrived on the scene. The officers use tasers to stop him, but they fail. Eventually, they shoot and kill the man to protect themselves and others in the vicinity. 

Later it is uncovered that the man is known to be suffering from severe mental problems.

Police are called on the carpet for killings such as this.

Why were lethal weapons necessary? Wasn’t there another way to stop this man from harming others and himself? 

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to these questions. Even though the man is unarmed, he still appears to have enough energy and anger to attack the police. He could have grabbed someone in one of the cars driving by and attacked or kidnapped them. If this should happen, the entire incident would quickly escalate.

Police are invariably called into situations where they must make quick decisions to protect themselves and others. That is a given. But it is fair to ask: is lethal force always necessary?

“It is critically needed to find another way forward,” says Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. At a time when so many new tools have come on the scene, he said, “[we need to find a way] to apply these new tools and technologies to some of our most vexing problems.”

Others are coming to this same conclusion. Police need as many non-lethal tools as possible – and the proper training on how to use them – so that the use of guns and other lethal weapons becomes a last resort, says New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill. He adds that “police officers must care for and value the sanctity of human life. It builds trust between the police and the community.”

So, what are some of these new tools and technologies? Before covering these new developments, we should discuss some older technologies that may still prove valuable. For instance:

Tasers. The story about the mentally ill man not being stopped by Tasers is not uncommon. Tasers are not 100 percent effective, but they are effective often enough that police should always consider them first before turning to lethal weapons. 

Bean bag guns. These have been around since the 1970s. These are like clay shooting cartridges, but the shot pellet is encased in cloth. They can cause severe tissue damage but are considered a non-lethal way to stop an assailant or someone about to commit a violent crime.

Billy clubs and arms. Billy clubs have been in use since the early 1800s. While they can be lethal, they are typically employed not to kill someone but to stop them in their tracks. Another old technique, which police are taught to use but often do not, is to use their arms and grapple the person down to the ground. It could be argued that in the situation discussed earlier, if police had grappled with the mentally ill man to subdue him with physical force, they would not have had to kill him.

As to those new, non-lethal weapons, three that seem to be making headway are the following:

BolaWraps. These use a gun-like system, but instead of firing bullets, they fire strings that wrap a target around their legs and arms, immobilizing them. While the systems are non-lethal, they have come under some criticism because of concerns about how they may be used. Several police departments are now testing these devices. 

However, for the most part, “wraps,” as they are called, are viewed as a promising alternative to guns and lethal weapons.

Robot dogs. The Massachusetts State Police are testing robot dogs that work alongside police officers. “Dogs” are used when it is too dangerous to go right up to an individual or inside a home or facility. The dogs are often used as observation tools, determining if, for instance, someone is carrying a gun or if there are other suspicious or hazardous devices at a crime scene. This can help police determine if lethal weapons are needed.

Robot security officers. Not only do we have robot dogs performing police activities in an attempt to diffuse situations without using lethal weapons, but robot security officers have also been developed to do the same thing. According to one manufacturer, their eye-level mobile surveillance robots help deter crimes and help police determine what type of force is necessary to subdue someone committing a crime.

Whether it’s robots, wraps, Billy clubs, or tasers, it appears police are seeking alternatives to using lethal force going forward. Even with the rise in crime, the public is calling for less deadly alternatives. 

Furthermore, police are more often being held accountable for using lethal force later deemed unnecessary. It’s a tough call, especially with rising crime. Taken together, the commitment to apply alternatives to deadly force and the development and application of new technologies have the potential to offer new solutions to control and prevent violent crime while also protecting you and me.

Mike Keenan has more than 35 years of professional retail loss prevention experience. He is a former counterintelligence officer specialists with the FBI and is now part of the TAL Global Team.  He can be reached through his company website at www.talglobal.com

© TAL Global, 2019