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Non-Lethal vs. Lethal Weapons and their use in the criminal justice profession



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     The law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system are important institutions in the society. They have particular roles to fulfil, just like the rest of the different other institutions found inside the society. But unlike the other institutions in the society, the law enforcement and criminal justice institutions are given the privilege to use and exercise force through lethal and non lethal weaponry, not typically allowed for use to ordinary civilians so that the agencies and departments serving under these institutions can function well. Both lethal and non lethal or less lethal weapons have its positive and negative side. Regardless of what type of option a police agency opts for, it cannot be denied that both types of weapon contributed greatly in the undertaking of effective policing tasks particularly in criminal justice. It leads to the conclusion that the best option available for the criminal justice organization is the development of both types of weapons as well as the development of dogma and protocol in the police force so that weapons-related problems are minimized and diminished; removing the stigma in the use of both lethal and non lethal weapons and understanding that ultimately, the person and not the object is accountable for things that happen, and its results.

    Cops and police officers, especially those directly working under the criminal justice system (guarding, transporting, escorting suspects or convicts wherever they maybe found or destined to go to, jail cops who manage and control crowds of convict inside penal colonies, etc) when on duty are always at high mortal risk because of the potential and motivation for violence of the people they manage, control and handle. Because of this fact, the law allows these individuals to be armed with both lethal and non lethal weapons. But aside from the risk to their own life, the government arms its police forces because these individuals are tasked with maintaining peace and order. Most of the time the need to fight off criminals or keep suspects or criminals controlled is through the use of lethal weapons.

    The use of lethal weapons

    There was no such thing as an era of non lethal or less lethal weapons and lethal weapons. Both types of weapons have been used side by side by policemen and cops around the world, although admittedly, the less lethal weapons were the first set of weapons that police officers were armed with during the early part of the police history. “Police defensive weaponry has come full circle; it began with a reliance on less-than-lethal weapons during the mid 1800s when clubs were issued to officers in New York and Boston. In the late 1800s, police forces began issuing firearms in response to criminal and riot-related threats (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

     The very common non lethal weapon of cops and police officers are night sticks, and the very common lethal weapon of cops are their hand guns and side arms. The only difference is that the development of non lethal or less lethal weapons was a younger concept compared to the development of lethal weapons. In the history of the development of weapons designed to kill another living being, mankind has always made improvements on the existing models of lethal weapons.

    The idea of improvement, of course, is the improvement in the lethality of the weapons. Throughout the course of development, guns became more accurate, can shoot over longer distances, can fire more rounds, more lightweight and featuring more advances characteristics absent from previous gun models. It was only during the rise of the consciousness to be armed with a less lethal or non lethal weapon that the idea of development in weapons include the downgrade in lethality in firepower.

    Because of many different reasons (e.g. cost of research, development and manufacturing, absence of knowledge and need for modern non lethal or less lethal weapons, adherence to the traditional law enforcement dogma, etc) there are still police forces in different parts of the world which relies heavily on the traditional lethal weapon (guns and firearms). But even now, there is no accepted belief that those who wield modern non lethal or less lethal weapon is a more superior and ethically sound police force compared to those that still carried guns.

    The rise of non lethal weapons and the clamor for the use of less lethal weapons do not demonize guns and lethal weapons. It was merely an advocacy for the development of a safer “first option” for police and cops. Guns, by itself, is not bad. It is the wielder that makes gun do bad things, and when a cop displays poor judgment and unprofessional action, the lethal weapon is used for an action that is deemed bad. But despite the fact that the gun-and-cop combo had had a bad reputation, it cannot be denied that guns and lethal weapons has a positive impact in effective policing.

    The presence of a lethal weapon gives off the idea of the possibility of death and dying, and when faced with these odds, some criminals opt to surrender themselves and be subjected to the criminal process. At some degree, the uses of lethal weapon of cops act as deterrence, making individuals think twice before committing a crime. This is because they are afraid to be shot and be killed if, when caught, they choose to resist arrest or fight back. The idea of the presence and use of lethal force as a deterrence against experiencing criminal acts is something that many political leaders believe, even those not directly involved in police, law enforcement and criminal justice.

    Because of this, the use of lethal weapon resulting to the use of lethal force is still largely in use in many different parts of the world. “Many state statutes authorize use of deadly force to prevent commission of a felony. Yet, to balance the legal and moral rights involved, several states have adopted penal codes that do not rely solely on a crime being classified as felony. They focused instead on the danger the suspect poses to the officer and society (Wrobleski, Hess, 2005, p. 382).”

    Clearly, the trend that the use of non-lethal weapons dictates is the changing of the status quo. Whereas before both non lethal and lethal weapons were used by police officers, the move to develop the ideal non lethal or less lethal weapon is geared at making this type of weapon the primary weapon of police officers, unless during situations wherein the use of lethal weapon is necessary. One of the reasons is to minimize the growing incidences of unethical and unprofessional actions by cops and police officers with the use of their guns (lethal weapons).

    Lethal weapon and the abuse of power

    The gun represents the idea of power. Because there are some police officers who do not know how to responsibly handle a gun, there are many cases around the world about cops going corrupt and using their gun to undertake illegal activities to acquire money, power and influence.  This is made possible by the use of the gun and by the power of the cops to carry guns. “The many recent police corruption scandals have made abuse of police power a major issue on the public agenda (Cole, Smith, 2004, p. 155).” The presence of cases of corrupt cops involved in illegal and armed activities is an important consideration why agencies are moving towards the use of non lethal or less lethal weapons. Cops will now need to have a very good reason for bringing a gun if the required protocol necessitates for a less lethal weapon only. Through this move, cops will be dissuaded from taking part in illegal activities wherein their guns take an important role.

    The police force: shifting from life-threatening to life-saving

    While not everyone maybe agreeable to the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons by the law enforcement units and police officers, it is clear that that most criminal justice branches of the government point to the need to reduce and eventually remove instances wherein innocent individuals get killed or injured from a lethal weapon fired by a police officer, with or without the intention to hit, kill or injure a person. The entry of non lethal weapons was a phenomenon noted by most observers, with focus on the positive aspect that such weapons can provide in the fight against crime and maintaining law and order among free individuals and those who are locked behind bars. “The advent of pulsed energy weapons (most commonly known as Tasers) has had an enormous impact on reducing police use of deadly force by giving officers another less-than-lethal option in dealing with suspects (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

    There is a practical and moral side to the shift in using non lethal weapons and decreasing the cases of civilian deaths from firearms fired by police officers. First, cops can use the absence of threat directed at innocent individuals through the use of non lethal weapons as a means to improve the trust of the public towards the local police force; second, accidental shooting can be minimized; third, police agencies can save a lot of money from the lawsuits that it will never face in the future once cops stop injuring or killing individuals – suspect or not.

    These incentives, as well as other short term and long term impact of the use of non lethal weapons, push different government agencies to actively pursue the creation of a new line of non lethal weaponry for the cops and police officers. “The National Institute of Justice has funded projects developing new nonlethal weapons. Police departments around the country are beginning to experiment with new weapons that will incapacitate people without killing them (Cole, Smith, 2004, p.155).”

    There is no doubt that there is a conscious effort among several law enforcement agencies to resort to using non-lethal or less than lethal weapons when apprehending suspects who are fighting back and pose potential threat to the life and limb of police officers. In 2004, Larry Siegel and Joseph Senna wrote a book about criminal justice. Here, the authors pointed out that “in the last few years, about 1,000 local police forces have started using some sort of less than lethal weapon designed to subdue suspects (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232)”, referring to the change happening in the criminal justice system in the United States of America.

    Private organizations like those manufacturing pulse weapon technology weapon, Taser,  reports that the sales margin of the product indicate that the law enforcement agencies quickly warmed up to the idea of implementing the use of non lethal weapons and the arming of police officers with weapons such as Tasers. “Taser International, Inc. reports that more than four thousand police departments have armed themselves with Taser devices (with more than five hundred agencies equipping all of their patrol officers). According to new Police Commissioner Kathy O’Toole, the Boston Police Department is one of many agencies considering equipping patrol supervisors and tactical teams with nonlethal option such as Tasers (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

    Development in Non-Lethal Weapons Technology

    The criminal justice seems to be mixing traditional law enforcement weaponry with high technology materials to arm the law enforcement units with non-lethal or less than lethal weapons. Despite the presence of high-technology weapons, there are still many police forces and law enforcement units that use weapons such as truncheons or night stick when confronting armed suspects or individuals or group of people that has the potential to be hostile and violent towards the law enforcement units. The use of these traditional non lethal weapons is usually backed up by the use of water cannons from the fire department. Another non lethal weapon used by law enforcement agencies being used for several decades now.

    These traditional non lethal weapons are not alone in the armory for non lethal weapons. The research and development efforts for the development of non lethal weapons for law enforcement units was able to come up with new weapons that may replace traditional weapons or may go hand in hand with traditional weapons. Specialists tasked with developing such kinds of weapons have included the use of different materials in the development of these weapons, mostly hand-held weapons that feature similar firing capacity as that of an ordinary firearm.

    When these weapons fire, what comes out of it is designed so that the target of the policeman is temporarily disabled, allowing the cop to apprehend the person and minimize the risk of one or both of them dying or getting seriously injured. The weapon achieves temporary paralysis of the individual by causing muscle spasms or even temporary blindness so that the person cannot run or attack a cop, especially if the person’s motor skills is not functional very well or a key sensory feature is hampered (e.g. eyesight). “The most widely used non-lethal weapons are wood, rubber, or polyurethane bullets shout out of a modified 37-mm pistols or 12-gauge shotguns. At short distances, officers use pepper spray and tasers, which deliver electric shocks with long wire tentacles, producing intense muscle spasms (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232).”

     There is already a collection of such weapons designed for non-lethal effect, and there are still those which are still in the drawing board undergoing tests and design improvement to be able to make the most out of the weapon design and capability. “Other technologies still in development include guns that shoot giant nets, guns that squirt sticky glue, and lights that can temporarily blind a suspect filled with lead pellets, which have a range of 100 feet and pack the wallop of a pro-boxer’s punch (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232).”

    Cole and Smith (2004) also wrote about the characteristics of the new non-lethal weapons that the research and development team were designing and developing for approval by the respective organizations that will fund its manufacture and use. The authors’ description of the new weapons being developed and tested did not only feature the ingenuity and creativity of the creators, but also proposes an entirely new way for police officers to catch and apprehend individuals or control crowds.

    Observers may describe them as ranging from realistic and practical to totally outrageous and impractical. “One new weapon fires a net over subjects. Another weapon shoots bean bags. Other weapons shoot plastic balls filled with pepper spray. Yet another weapon covers suspects with sticky foam that prevents them from running. Officers can also fill the pellets with green dye in order to mark and later arrest individuals in an out-of-control crowd (Cole and Smith, 2004, p. 155).”

    Shifting to the use of non lethal weapon

     The different types of non lethal weapons are slowly getting the attention of law enforcement and criminal justice leaders because of what it can do, particularly in its role in the minimizing of police-involved shooting.  The positive results of the use of non lethal weapon particularly with regards to the removal of the possibility that a cop or police officer shoots and seriously injures or kills a person is an important part of the consideration for the shift towards the use of non lethal or less lethal weapons.

    Tasers is one of the many different less lethal weapons that some police agencies and state governments are considering having after passing with flying colors during a test run using such equipment. “The popularity of the device has raised new issues for police executives. Both the Miami and Seattle police departments reported that there were no police-involved shootings in their respective agencies in 2003. As PERF staff explores less than lethal use of force options, it has become clear that the Taser will continue to garner more attention (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

    The realization of the positive impact on focusing the development towards the creation of less lethal weapons and the return to the traditional practice of arming the police force with less lethal weapon all indicate to the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons of police officers in most cases of crime-fighting an crime-prevention tasks. It is especially in influential first world countries which could influence other countries and set the example for the police paradigm towards weapons selection and use. “More recently, police departments in the United States (and the United Kingdom) have returned to more less-than-lethal options, including the collapsible baton, oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, and pulsed energy weapons like the Taser (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

     The different police units and law enforcement agencies around the world opting for the use of non-lethal weapons in place of lethal weapons have different reasons for making the change. For Smith and Henry (2007) the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons is because “tasers, CS sprays and baton rounds [rubber bullets]…add more options to the continuum of force to help resolve certain threatening situations (Smith and Henry, 2007, p. 179).” These gives cops more options to use force to resolve situations that has the potential to endanger innocent lives without risking killing or seriously injuring either those directly involved or those who will be caught in the crossfire.

    One of the reasons why some police and law enforcement units are making the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons is because of the danger posed by a lethal weapon in the presence of many unarmed innocent civilians. Despite training and adherence to proper protocol and use of firearms, there are unexpected scenarios during police actions inside populated areas that put innocent civilians in harm’s way because the police officer is holding and using a lethal weapon. “Police officers in the United States carry firearms. With firearms, officers can easily kill someone, including bystanders when they pull the trigger (Cole, Smith, 2004, p.155).”

    Another reason why law enforcement agencies are considering the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons is to minimize the cases of the killing or injuring of innocent individuals who are shot by cops by mistake. “Many police shootings have led to lawsuits against the police that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in court judgment favoring citizens who have been seriously injured or killed (Cole, Smith, 2004, p. 155).”

    In the book Criminal Justice in America, the author mentioned talked about a $10 million dollar lawsuit filed versus Detroit City after a deaf man was shot by cops. Holding a lawn rake, the man was considered posed in a threatening position by cops, who ordered the man to drop the rake. When the man did not follow, the cops shot the man, killing him (Cole, Smith, 2004, p. 155). While there may also be issues in protocol and response action owing to the drastic action take by the cops who lethally shot the person instead of employing the textbook shooting to incapacitate or disable strategy, a large part of the death was owed to the use of lethal weapon.

    If a non lethal weapon was used (i.e. taser), the man may have not died, and so are the rest of the innocent individuals who died after being shot by a cop with the use of a lethal weapon. If a non lethal weapon was used, the City of Detroit, and other law enforcement agencies around the world who are sued for such action, may not be facing a lawsuit that could cost them millions worth of money, not to mention the drop in moral and popularity and the impact of such incidences on the confidence of the public towards law enforcement units.

    Smith and Henry (2007) both agree that the role of non lethal weapon is particularly focused on avoiding killing individuals especially since there are incidences wherein the person who was shot was innocent. Avoiding “police shootings, including incidents in which the person shot subsequently turned out to be innocent (Smith and Henry, 2007, p. 178)” is one of the roles included in the “expanded future role for less-lethal weapons (Smith and Henry, 2007, p. 178).” Another reason is that through the effective use of non lethal weapons, cops, during operations, are not forced to exert extensive use of force versus individuals they aim at apprehending or controlling. Non lethal weapons provide them with the capability to quickly subdue individuals resisting arrest or directly attacking or assaulting a police officer or another individual. “Recent research efforts indicate that non-lethal weapons may help reduce police use of force (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232).”

    Leaders involved in the training and policy making about the use of force of police officers either with convicted criminals inside prison houses or suspected criminals and other aggressive individuals attacking or potentially threatening a police officers in the streets during duty, are not merely resorting to the re-designing and overhauling of the police officer’s set of weapons. Lesser and lesser force is exerted by the police officer to subdue an individual minus the threat of killing or injuring the person.

    The level of hand to hand combat expertise of police officers is also being upgraded so that the use of force to subdue an opponent is accomplished even without the use of a weapon. “In addition to less than lethal weapons, there is less than lethal self defense training, which includes verbal judo, takedown techniques, control holds, and pressure-point immobilization (Dantzker, 2005, p. 287).” This knowledge is especially important among jail guards, who are exposed to an attack on a close range since their proximity with violent convicts is very close that it is close to impossible to fire a weapon without risking hurting convicts who are not part of the riot or commotion.

    The expertise in self defense and hand to hand combat is not a new concept in the police force. But with the growth of tactical group movement, the development in protective wear for police officers and the development in weaponry, the art of hand to hand close range fighting and self defense was a weapon left behind in development and advancement compared to the rate of development and advancement of the lethal and less lethal police weaponry.

    The use and availability of non lethal weapons even to non-members of the law enforcement community: an issue of ethics, policy and effective regulation

    The non lethal weapons were developed because there are those who believed that people who are being arrested or being controlled should not be accorded lethal force because it is inhuman and unethical. But it cannot be helped that upon the creation of non lethal weapons that are designed specifically to answer the ethical concerns of the use of lethal weapons, a new set of ethical issues will surface that the government and the criminal justice system should address. Since these weapons cannot kill a person, it can be used as a weapon by cops to torture individuals. Because of that it is important that cops are indoctrinated and educated very well about the nature of these types of weapons; why they are being used, how they should be correctly used, and the penalties for the abusive use of such weapons.

    Because these non lethal weapons are new, it is hard to find precedents from which laws and regulations about use, restriction, punishment, etc that would be made would be based from. Indeed, it is important for a clear protocol and standard firing SOP that police officers should follow when using any and all of the non lethal or less lethal weapons, either towards convicted felons or towards suspected criminals. This discussion ultimately points to the judgment of police officers, which should also be improved since it was also poor judgment in their part that the problem of the shooting of innocent people by cops happen in different parts of the world. Considering that the poor judgment is still evident, the consolation in the use of non lethal weapons is that the risk of death of an innocent victim is minimized.

    But this does not mean that the ethical implications of such move to use non lethal weapons should not be discussed. On the contrary, this is a good opportunity to review paradigms and re-assess the ethical and moral position of cops in the incidences involving them and the use of both lethal and non lethal weapons. “They should be used only after having followed a risk assessment procedure in order to establish proportionality and document and justify officers’ actions (Smith, Henry, 2007, p. 179).”

    The ethical implications of the doctrine for the proper, sufficient and acceptable use of non lethal weapons is not less serious inside prison houses when directed towards convicted felons. As a society ruled by the law based on humane treatment of free and imprisoned individuals, police officers should be reminded not just of the proper use of these non lethal weapons towards convicts. The fact that they are law-breakers does not give the police officers the moral right to make these criminals suffer physical pain, trauma and agony, unless necessary.

    Prisoners are usually targeted with the use of unnecessary force because some cops believe these convicts deserve it, getting away with some acts of the unnecessary use of excessive force. This is because prison houses are closed and isolated from the rest of the society. With the growth of less than lethal weaponry, it is not impossible that some police officers inside jail houses and inside prison might be tempted to use it towards convicts excessively than they did with lethal weapons, especially since they believe it is unlikely they can kill a convict with a non lethal or less lethal weapon.

    An important linchpin for ethical consideration is the reminder to police executives that the downgrade of lethality of the weapons used by police officers anywhere is not a reason for law enforcement leaders to be vigilant about the cases of excessive use of force. This is because the threat to injury and death is present nonetheless with the use of non lethal or less lethal weapons.

    The ethical concerns about the presence of non lethal weapons involve not just the law enforcement community, but the rest of the society as well. Like the present problem about the presence of an underground market network involving the illegal buying and selling of guns, the selling of non lethal weapons in the black market maybe a new problem that the law enforcement agencies have to face.

    Once these products fall in the hands of illegal weapons vendor or the designs of these weapons made available to illegal manufacturers. There is a very good possibility that these kinds of weapons may also fill the streets, like what happened when gun sales went uncontrolled. People who wish to arm themselves with something strong enough to deter criminal activities might want to own a non lethal weapon. Gang members and other thugs may execute criminal acts with the use of non lethal weapons. Eventually, the government’s legislation would focus on how to prosecute criminals using non lethal weapons since these are not the same as ordinary firearms. “Greater effort must be made to regulate these non-lethal weapons and create effective policies for their use (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232).”

    Another important implication of the use of a new set of non lethal weapons is the analysis of the impact and immediate and long term effect of these weapons towards its targets. Police officers should always be reminded about the proper use of these weapons, and they should be made to understand about the equally seriously repercussions that the overuse of such weapons may bring not just to the law enforcement agencies but to the victims as well.

    The shift towards minimizing and eventual removal of death caused by a police officer’s firearm may not be attained even with the use of non lethal weapons if the weapon is still capable of killing a person. “Although these weapons are generally nonlethal, they can cause serious injuries if they hit someone in the eye or elsewhere in the head. For example, several police departments in the Los Angeles area have abandoned the use of beanbags because of concerns about injuries and a few deaths caused by these projectiles (Cole, Smith, 2004, p. 155).”

    Even if some studies may actually support the fact that by design these weapons cannot kill, the question still stands – are these weapons safe? Sure, short term and immediate analysis of the impact on the individual may convince police officers that these weapons are ok because the targets come out alive after being shot at by these non lethal or less lethal weapons. But the mere fact that they survived the incident alone does not constitute the idea of safety.

    Take for example, the case of pulsed energy weapons or Tasers. During instances wherein the police officer needs to restrain or control an individual, there would be those who would say that the use of Tasers, a non lethal or less lethal weapon, is a better approach compared to the use of a gun – a lethal weapon. This is mainly because of the higher possibility of death with the use of gun compared to the use of Tasers. But the truth is even the non lethal weapon or less lethal weapon Taser is also a source of possible health and safety risks. Samaha (2005) pointed about the “criticisms” regarding Tasers and Taser-type devices and other pulsed energy weapons which can lead to effects and impacts on the target that can be described as “unnecessary and unreasonable (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).”

    Non lethal weapons and its impact in police efficiency

    There is a popular saying about how a society needs a wolf to fight off another wolf to protect the sheep, about the need to have fangs to be able to stave off the enemy. In the case of the shift towards non lethal weapons, some ask if this will affect the performance and capability of police officers and the law enforcement agencies in general in a negative way.

    There are many different questions expected to arise from this issue. Will the downgrade of the lethal capability of cops embolden criminals especially those who can use live rounds versus the non lethal weapons of the cops? Will their new weapon affect the deterrence factor that cop presence has? How will the downgrade of weapons affect cops operating in areas where unlicensed and loose firearms are rampant? Are law enforcement agencies preparing a new paradigm on textbook police operation, maneuver and tactics to suit the ability and limitations of the new set of weapons that they will use? Are the members of the police community generally satisfied or not in this new shift? How protected does the community and the cops as well feel with these new non lethal weaponry decorating the holsters of cops? These are just some of the questions that are being raised in lieu of the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons.

    Cole and Smith (2004) were critical about the impacts of the use of nonlethal weapons, putting forward some questions that should be included in deliberations about the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons and the changes that should go along with it if and when such policy is approved. “Will these new weapons create new problems for police? Will officers quickly employ an easy-to-fire non lethal weapon which can cause injury rather than first attempting verbal persuasion when faced with an angry, emotional or mentally ill person? Will nonlethal weapons actually kill some people who are especially susceptible to harm? Will officers be injured or killed while employing a nonlethal weapon against a suspect? (Cole and Smith, 2004, p. 155)”

    But despite the fact that it is very early to tell regarding the answers to these questions, there are already some developments in some police forces that may hint to the overall future of non lethal weapons. While the use of these types of weaponry is slowly becoming widespread, so does the feeling of dissatisfaction over the implications of the use of some of the non lethal weapons. Take for example, the case of some police departments in the Los Angeles area, which opted to shelf the idea of using guns firing bean bag projectiles after the use of this weapon resulted to “dissatisfaction with their accuracy when fired at a target (Cole, Smith, 2004, p.155).”

    The use of lethal weapon is an important aspect in a police officers life as they serve the public, free individuals and prisoners alike, and protect them from harm, harm from other people as well as harm from their own self and doing. But as the role of the police becomes more complicated and involved tasks that does not necessarily require the use of a lethal weapon, the government is now caught in the tug of war between those advocating the use of non lethal weapon or less lethal weapon and those who believe that every policeman should still be armed by a lethal weapon. Even if he or she is merely patrolling a relatively quiet and peaceful block or neighbourhood, in the belief that denying police officers of equipment to enable him or her to save himself/herself as well as others from harm’s way, is not the right thing to do.

    Throughout the history of different police agencies and law enforcement groups, there are incidence wherein the presence of a gun with live ammunition proved to be a good thing. It cannot be denied that there are also countless incidences wherein bad cops who are involved in illegal activities like drug trafficking, harassment and extortion were able to do what they did because they were armed. And then there are also the cases of cops shooting innocent individuals, causing injury and even death. Taking all of these factors all together, some law enforcement units now are seriously considering the path towards the use of non lethal or less lethal weapon over lethal weapon.

    Law enforcement units which are contemplating the shift towards the use of non-lethal force should carefully examine such move because of its financial, moral, ethical, logistical and operational implications. Leaders of law enforcement units and executives of criminal justice system should make themselves amenable to different ways and means by which information on whether or not to make the shift towards the use of non lethal weapons can be ascertained. This decision should be made with utmost consideration to the different foreseeable positive and negative impact of the action.  “Ultimately ensuring the appropriate use of non-lethal weapons requires making political choices that can not rest on analysis alone (Lewer, 2002, p. 73).”

    Indeed, many observers point to the fact that it was not enough that these weapons are non lethal or less lethal in nature. The issue is not just simply focused on whether the cops may or may not kill or seriously injure a person, it is an important consideration, but that is not all. There is also the moral and ethical consideration. For example, the analysis and discussion on how the weapons and its specific functions come across the public and the impact transcending and surpassing those which is physical in nature. “In the case of baton round usage, although research does indeed seem to confirm that they have a low lethality rate when fired, the weapon remains highly controversial because it is seen as a weapon of oppression (Smith, Henry, 2007, p. 179).”

    The idea of not resorting to extremely polar resolution to the conflict of the use of lethal and non lethal weapons may also be a good idea to resolve the issue of regulating the negative impact brought about by the use of lethal weapon of the police force. This is because the tasks of police officers may necessitate still the use of lethal force, especially in some scenarios when it is necessary for police officers to kill a person in order to save more. For example, the police officers cannot just use non lethal weapons against a suicide bomber who is ready to detonate the bomb.

    Non lethal weapons would do very little to stop a suicide bomber from accomplishing her/his mission. But if armed with a lethal weapon, killing the suicide bomber instantaneously will guarantee that the bomber is not physically capable anymore of detonating the bomb. This hypothetical case/scenario (which is not highly unlikely anymore since urban terrorism and suicide bombing inside cities is happening around the world) is just one of the many different scenarios that cops will face wherein they will need the service of a lethal weapon to be more effective.

    This proves that a possible resolution to this issue is the creation of policies that inform police officers when to use and when not to use lethal and non lethal weapons, since cops face different kinds of tasks everyday. “Traditional non lethal weapons, such as nightsticks and pepper spray, can be used only when officers are in close contact with suspects, and they are not suitable for all situations that officers face (Cole, Smith, 2004, p. 155).”


    All in all, it seems that the law enforcement agencies are tinkering at the wrong solution. The problem, as it appears, is the attitude and personality of the cops. A cop with a good sense of judgment would not kill a person accidentally even if he or she has a lethal weapon, and inversely, an incompetent cop can seriously injure or kill a person even if all he or she has is a non lethal or less lethal weapon. Maybe the police leaders should focus on developing cops with a stronger personality and a better judgment on situations – lethal or non lethal weapon at the side.

    Like what Dantzker (2005) wrote, “The key to fewer incidents of excessive use of force continues to be training (Dantzker, 2005, p. 287).” If the police officers and jail wardens are trained well enough, there is no reason for them to be overly jumpy when violence that demands their attention and controlling power erupts. Jail guards need not resort to excessive use of force, lethal or non lethal, to control a restless crowd of convicts that has the potential to riot, amongst themselves or against the police officers on duty. On the street, police officers need to rely on their training so that they can always make sound judgment, particularly on the use of force and the extent of use of lethal and non lethal weapons to de-escalate a situation and have it under control without anyone getting seriously hurt or killed.

    Indeed, the role of properly training police officers to effectively control situation with use of little or even no lethal or less lethal weapon may provide an important provision by which the resolution of the use of lethal and non lethal weaponry and force should be based. “Police use of force continues to be an important issue, but control measures seem to be working. Fewer people are being killed by police, and fewer officers are being killed in the line of duty than ever before (Siegel, Senna, 2004, p. 232).”

    One of the ideal steps that the law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice departments should take is the integration of training processes for this particular aspect of policing while prospective police officers are still training inside police academies. This is to ensure that the police officers are indoctrinated to the proper and ethical use of lethal, non lethal or less lethal weapon and the overall use of force towards convicted criminals, suspected criminals, unruly members of a crowd and individuals they are trying to subdue and control. The training should be constantly updated so that when the students become full fledged cops, they are educated about the use and protocol for lethal, less lethal and non lethal weapons. “Most police academies now require several hours of training in self-defense, arrest-control techniques and less than lethal weapons’ use in an effort to keep to a minimum the use of force (Dantzker, 2005, p. 287).”

    The development of non lethal weapons should not be stopped. It should continue for the sake of the availability of a wide range of weapons that the cops can use, of course, using it with a sound judgment, clear head and a high level of professionalism propelling the cop to action. A good workman never blames the tools, and the problems hinged on the personality and characteristics of cops are not solved by changing his or her weapon. Even a spoon and fork is a lethal weapon to a cop who is out of control, unethical and unprofessional. Samaha (2005) believed that “advancements in technology have always changed the way in which people live. As human knowledge expanded tools were developed to make people more efficient both at home and in the workplace (Samaha, 2005, p. 247).” In the case of the use of lethal and non lethal weapons and the balancing of the option which can guarantee the better state of safety of everyone, the police executives should instead focus on human skills, characteristics and personality development so that the high technology equipment that is being developed could allow the better performance of professionals in the field like cops and at the same time achieve the primary goal of this institution: to serve and protect.


    Cole, George F., and Smith, Christopher E. (March 2004). Criminal Justice in America.

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    Dantzker, Mark L. (January 2005). Understanding Today’s Police. Willow Tree Press.

    Lewer, Nick. (July 2002). The Future of Non-Lethal Weapons. Taylor & Francis, Inc.

    Samaha, Joel. (June 2005). Criminal Justice. THOMSON.

    Siegel, Larry J., and Senna, Joseph J. (March 2004). Introduction to Criminal Justice.

    Cengage Learning.

    Smith, David J., and Henry, Alistair. (March 2007). Transformations of Policing. Ashgate

    Publishing, Limited.

    Wrobleski, Henry M., and Hess, Karen M. (March 2005). Introduction to Law Enforcement

    and Criminal Justice. Wadsworth.

    Non-Lethal vs. Lethal Weapons and their use in the criminal justice profession. (2017, Jan 14). Retrieved from

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