Police Officers Opinions on the use of Non-lethal Weapons in Combating Crime
Chapter One – Introduction
Non-lethal weapons have been accepted to be the key component of today’s domestic enforcement force - Police Officers Opinions on the use of Non-lethal Weapons in Combating Crime introduction. Over the years, the technologies initially tested for military purposes was redesigned and redeployed for law enforcement.
The key motivation of using non-lethal weapons is to reduce the human loss of life. The Department of Defence (DOD) defines non-lethal weapons in DoD Policy Directive 3000.3 (Levine et al, 2002) as:
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“The weapon systems that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimising fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and environment” (DoD, 1996)
As the technology and method is being increasing deployed in various scenarios, it is necessary to review whether the system is performing in an acceptable manner. There are several critical parameters that can determine how effective the system is. This research attempts to find out whether the non-lethal weapon system is effective in combating crime.
Statement of the problem
As the police force increasingly uses different types of non-lethal weapons, it changes the way in which the force deals with various issues. The research tries to find out whether the new ways of functioning of the police force using these weapons is helpful for them in combating crimes or it creates more risks and occupational hazard to the police force. Specifically this research attempts to find out the following:
Does the police force that use the non-lethal or less-than-lethal weapons feel it is effective for carrying out their critical actions during a combative scenario with the suspects.
Is all the police force using the non-lethal weapons according to the policies laid out?
Do all the police officers likely to use the non-lethal weapons have adequate training for carrying out actions using the weapons?
Are the non-lethal weapons effective for combating crime?
As more and more non-lethal weapons are being researched and inducted by different organisations including police force, the ways of using the non-lethal weapons and the effectiveness will continue to change. However the knowledge of the deficiencies and issues in using it will always provide feedback for improvement and the development towards a ‘police actions without fatalities’.
The research focuses on finding the perception of the police community on the use of non-lethal weapons. Although several research papers are being carried out by various government bodies such as NIJ, it usually focuses on the weapon and technology. There is very less research on an integrated study taking into consideration different aspects such as the strength of the weapon, policies and the effectiveness. This research attempts to provide an integrated view to the usage of non-lethal weapons.
More importantly, it provides the information from the perspective of the police force. The result can be used for validating other research to give this perspective.
Purpose of the Study
Non-lethal weapons has redefined how weapons are used for the combating crime in urban areas. This may include several situations where police force uses a weapon. This could be a situation when a officer is faced with a rioting mob, an attacker holding a hostage or when required to subdue someone in a vehicle or in a jail cell. There are other situations in which the police force may be required to restraint using a weapon or with less impact such as when subduing a person threatening to commit suicide holding a sharp object or when the situation involves sensitive individuals such as a pregnant women or children (Hubbs et al, 2004).
Non-lethal weapons must be equally effective in situations where the subject is required to be subdued with force or tactfully subdued with at most consideration for other people involved.
The purpose of this study is to find out whether non-lethal weapons are effective in both these situations or if it actually restricts the effectiveness of the police force to act on time and with effectiveness.
The research hypotheses are the following:
§ The advancement in the non-lethal weapon technology has enabled the police force to strike with equal precision and often more effectiveness using non-lethal weapons when compared to the conventional weapons (Levine et al, 2002).
§ The ability to limit the damages especially in terms of the human life has enabled the police force to act more confidently and with greater ability.
§ The non-lethal weapons have been able to reduce the casualty by a significant number of both offenders and the other people involved.
Justification of the Study
There has been increasing criticism of the use of non-lethal weapons. There is a wide spread argument that use of non-lethal weapons have actually caused the police force to be more aggressive and violent. The argument sources from the belief that non-lethal weapons being lesser effective forces police to compensate for the ineffectiveness with more aggressiveness. Further, the argument claims that this aggressiveness causes more damage than using a lethal weapon.
This study attempts to provide answers to the following key questions:
§ Does the use of weapons make the police force less effective in their opinion?
§ Does the police force feel they are able to combat criminal situations with equal ability compared to lethal weapons?
§ Are there points of concern from the point of view of the police force regarding the use of non-lethal weapons?
A negative result for this study could be a partial confirmation of the use of non-lethal weapons by the police force. It also can provide important feedback for improving the effectiveness the non-lethal weapons and could provide important information back to the industry of non-lethal weapons.
Limitations of the Study
The results of this study must be viewed in perspective of the following limitations:
§ There is a risk that the participants of this research does not have the full knowledge about the use of non-lethal weapons and hence may provide inaccurate results.
§ The sample size may not represent the state of the police force in the entire scope of United States. It may be required to verify the results with further study or segmented analysis for each region.
§ The technological advances or lack of it during the period of study can alter the situation quickly.
Assumptions of the Study
The key assumptions of the study are the following:
§ The participant of the research is an active personnel in police force in United States.
§ The participant is aware of the use of non-lethal weapons or is using it.
§ The participant has not served in other countries with higher maturity in use of non-lethal weapons.
§ The participant has not been involved with the development of any non-lethal weapons as this can cause bias for the research response.
The key terminologies used in the research are:
§ Non-lethal weapons: This is a common term given to weapons that help law enforcement and correction agencies to subdue a suspect without providing fatal injuries to the suspect. It utilises various techniques to make the impact lighter or use chemicals that can immobilize the subject, thereby reducing the resistance (Pilant, 1993)
§ Less-than-lethal weapons: The term ‘non-lethal’ weapons has been modified to reflect the actual nature of the weapons. This is done in view of the fact that any of these weapons could cause fatal injuries or even death depending on the way it is used (Levine et al, 2002).
§ Incapacitation: This is the state of being rendered immobile, unwilling to move or resist caused by the non-lethal weapon (Kenny et al, 2001).
§ Pepper Spray: This is the common name given to oleoresin capsicum (OS) and is used by the law enforcement and correction agencies across United States to help subdue and arrest dangerous, combative, violent or uncooperative suspects (Ashcroft et al, 2004).
§ Impact munitions: This term refers to a group of firearm delivered projectiles that have a low probability of causing serious bodily injury or death when they strike human targets. These could include items such as wooden dowels, foam rubber projectiles and small bean bags and could be fired from 12 gauge shotguns and 37 millimetre gas launchers (Ashcroft et al, 2004).
Chapter Two – Literature Review
The following literature reviews are carried out as part of this research:
1. Pilant, L (1993) Less-than-Lethal Weapons: New Solutions for Law Enforcement, NCJRS.
2. John Ashcroft, Deborah J. Daniels, Sarah V. Hart (2003) The Effectiveness and Safety of Pepper Spray, NIJ
3. Ken Hubbs, David Klinger (2004) Impact Munitions Use: Types, Targets, Effects, NIJ.
4. Samuel Walker (2006) Police Accountability: Current Issues and Research Needs, NIJ.
Less-than-Lethal Weapons: New Solutions for Law Enforcement
This paper provides a history of the introduction of non-lethal weapons in Police force in United States. It gives an insight into the factors and circumstances that led to the initiation of work on non-lethal weapons and its stated objectives during the initiation. This paper provides a background to the research.
The paper cites that the work for non-lethal weapons started in about 1965, but it was in 1985 that the task was given a new impetus by virtue of the Supreme Court ruling in Tennesse v. Garner. It was the use of deadly force for apprehending unarmed, non-violent fleeing suspects that prompted the court to take notice. This resulted in National Institute of Justice starting to investigate several ideas and ultimately funding a study on chemical incapacitants.
Further incidents like that of Rodney King further provided the impetus to the activities by triggering off various discussions as well as pressure from media to find a solution. There was a call for accelerated efforts and additional funding to find the tools that could be used for subduing criminal without use of lethal weapons. This led to NIJ putting more effort to develop weapons. However the progress was slow until 1993. Although there were some key developments, no weapon could be developed that was ready to deploy. NIJ then involved representatives from other areas such as police chiefs, SWAT commanders, narcotics detectives, deputy sheriffs, line officers, representatives from jails and prisons and representatives from criminal justice profession. The participants were divided into different sub groups, each studying the need for a tool in a variety of scenarios.This group identified the list of devices that could be used effectively. Subsequently Department of Energy (DOE) was also involved in the development.
It is now that the definitions of Less-Than-Lethal and Non-Lethal weapons care introduced. Non-Lethal weapons were defined to be ones that cannot cause death no matter how it is used, whereas Less-Than-Lethal weapons can be lethal if used inappropriately or in unusual circumstances. Although LTL weapons are treated as alternatives to lethal weapons, it is just a lower grade of the lethal weapon in the amount of damage that it can cause.
The following parameters were set for the development of the LTL weapon:
§ It had to improve on a present practice;
§ It could not overburden the officer;
§ It had to be inexpensive;
§ It should not require extensive training;
§ It should not require dedicated manpower;
§ The liability issues had to be manageable;
§ It had to show result and work effectively.
The paper further reviews the various weapon developments that were being carried out by NIJ.
The key points to be noted from this paper from the perspective of this research are:
§ The need for non-lethal weapons was identified when certain cases were identified where the use of lethal weapons caused fatal effects where it could have been avoided.
§ Distinction between less-than-lethal and non-lethal weapons. There is very little difference between less-than-lethal and non-lethal weapons, especially considering that way of use of any non-lethal weapons could prove fatal.
§ Among the key requirements of the weapon identified during the initial development phase were that the weapon should improve the situation before the use of the tool, it should not involve extensive training and have only limited liability that can be managed. (Pilant, 1993)
The Effectiveness and Safety of Pepper Spray
The paper provides the second aspect of non-lethal weapons which is the effectiveness. It looks at one of the non-lethal weapon specifically –the Pepper Spray. This is the result of two NIJ funded studies looking at the safety and effectiveness of the weapon. One study specifically looked at officer and suspect injuries in three North Carolina before and after pepper spray was introduced by the force. The second study examined the deaths of 63 suspects held in custody after pepper spray was used during their arrest.
The study brought into light certain critical aspects regarding the use of non-lethal weapons. The North Carolina based study found out that the number of injuries to the police officers and suspects declined after the pepper spray was introduced. It also helped in reducing the number of complaints about excessive force used by police.
The objectives of the study were to find out the following:
§ Injuries to police officers from suspects when dealing with them;
§ Injuries to suspects when police uses force
§ Complaints of excessive use of force by the police
For this study the records of three North Carolina police departments were compared. The study looked at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Winston-Salem Police Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. The study compares the periods before and after the introduction of pepper spray.
The study found out that there was a steady decline in the officer’s injury from 1991 to 1998. This decline began before pepper spray was introduced and continued to decline at almost the same rate after the introduction.
Charlotte: Officers injuries (NIJ, 2003)
The study of the State Highway Patrol officers however showed a different trend. Here there was a significant decline in the officer’s injury after the introduction of pepper spray of about 33%.
State Highway Patrol: Officers injuries (NIJ, 2003)
In case of suspect injuries, the monthly counts of suspect injured by CMPD officers began to fall significantly after the introduction of pepper spray.
Charlotte: Suspect injuries (NIJ, 2003)
In the case of Winston-Salem, the monthly count of suspect injury had already started to decline and continued to do so after the introduction of the spray.
In the study of excessive force complaints, there was an interesting trend in case of the State Highway Patrol officers from 1975 to 1998. The number of complaints filed decreased drastically after the introduction of the spray.
State Highway Patrol: Excessive force complaints (NIJ, 2003)
The study of in-custody deaths found out that pepper spray contributed to two out of the 63 cases. Both the deaths attributed were of people with asthma. In other cases, the death was caused mainly by the detainee’s drug use, disease, positional asphyxia, or a combination of these factors.
Overall the study indicated linkage in the reduction of police officer’s injury, suspect injury and complaints of excessive force. However the study had many limitations. Key limitations included the following:
§ There were significant differences between the data sources. Hence only a limited number of conclusions could be drawn.
§ The procedure of identifying injuries of both police force and suspect differed with agencies involved. This could have skewed the results.
§ Depending on the level of computer use and sophistication of the software used, the availability of the data at each site differed.
§ The methods of data collection also differed. In some cases like Highway Patrol the circumstances were narrated by two officers rather than one in other cases.
The in-custody death study was focussed on finding out the effect of the spray use to arrestees who were exposed to the pepper spray. A study was conducted on 73 case of in-custody deaths to determine the role of the use of spray.
The study involved collection of reports from a variety of sources – reports from law enforcement sources, emergency medical technicians, emergency room personnel, coroners and medical examiners and toxicologists. This was then combined with analysis of police reports of the confrontation, autopsy findings and numerically precise toxicological data. Out of the 73 cases, 10 were excluded due to insufficient data or the cases were found to have not used pepper spray.
In custody death cases (NIJ, 2003)
Upon analysis of the 63 cases, it was found that 12 were attributed to drugs and heart disease. 7 or the cases were attributed to positional asphyxia. Several cases had combined effects making it difficult to isolate a single cause. Some of the cases were outliers with effects of other weapons or health issues were involved.
In case of asthma, details for one of them were not available. However for other case, it was found that the autopsy found signs of pre-existing asthma and the medical examiner certified that the death was caused by asthma precipitation by the use of pepper spray. It also revealed bronchial spasm triggered by inhaled pepper spray. However the study concluded that pepper spray was not the direct or sole cause of death in any of the cases.
The study also made observations on the effectiveness of the pepper spray. The pepper spray was found ineffective on suspects who are on drugs (Ashcroft et al, 2003).
The key points to be noted from this paper from the perspective of this research are:
§ In some instances the pepper spray was found to reduce injuries to police officers, suspects and complaints of excessive use.
§ The number of in-custody deaths in which pepper spray was used in the arrest process is very low.
§ Each of the non-lethal weapons has their characteristic and the effectiveness is heavily dependent on these. The effectiveness also depends on the conditions of the subject.
§ The usage of the weapons has an impact on the effectiveness and impact.
§ Some of the Non-lethal weapons could have long effects on the subjects on whom it is employed depending on other factors.
Impact Munitions Use: Types, Targets, Effects
This paper is a report on the study done to identify the circumstances under which non-lethal and less-than-lethal weapons have been used the physical effects that have on the individuals involved in the field.
This study involved a survey of about 106 law enforcement and corrections agencies and analysis of about 373 incidents. It was found that more than 90 percent of the encounters were resolved without officers needing to resort to any lethal force. The study profiled the encounters where non-lethal weapons were used, injuries and fatalities that resulted from the use of the weapons. It identifies the key factors in effectiveness and possibilities for injuries to the suspects and police officers.
One of the key factors identified by the study is the distance between the subject and where the weapon was used or fired. One of the reasons of limited or less serious injury was found to be that most projectiles rapidly lose velocity once they reach their maximum speed. Hence if the impact is fired from a distance of at least 10 feet, the capacity of the weapon to cause serious injury is minimised to a large extent. It was also found that the most likely serious injury was broken bones.
Of the 373 incidents reported, the study identified 8 individuals who died as a result of being hit directly by non-lethal weapons. In these cases 6 of them were found to be when the individuals were hit on the chest and when fired within 30 feet (Hubbs et al, 2004).
The key findings of this study were the following:
§ It was found that less-than-lethal weapons, especially impact munitions are usually very effective in resolving violent police encounters without having to resort to lethal weapons, even though many of the suspects were armed with lethal weapons themselves.
§ It was found that the non-lethal weapons such as impact munitions cause fewer causalities and deaths than the lethal munitions.
§ The non-lethal weapons were not found to be 100 percent effective. It was identified that there are limits to how and when they are used. Hence it was recommended by the study that the police force should have lethal weapons available if the non-lethal weapons do not work.
§ It was found that training in the handling and use of non-lethal weapons is critical to the effectiveness of the weapons.
§ The report suggested that the impact of the non-lethal weapons should be identifiable against the lethal weapons. It recommended use of distinctive markings and colourings.
§ The impact area of suspects when using the non-lethal weapons was found to be very critical in the injury. In the case of lethal weapons the law enforcement personnel are usually trained to target the center of mass. However in case of non-lethal weapons, it may cause fatal injuries especially at close ranges.
§ The current non-lethal weapons were found to be effective, but there is a need to develop more effective but less dangerous weapons.
§ Availability of data was found to be the critical factor in understanding the use and consequences of non-lethal weapons. It was found that most of the information available was anecdotal rather than hard data. Structured data would help in identifying deficiencies, training and use of non-lethal weapons in real life situations (Hubbs et al, 2004).
The key points to be noted from this paper from the perspective of this research are:
§ Non-lethal weapons were found to be effective in most of the situations studied and were found to avoid use of lethal weapons in most of the cases. However the effectiveness depends on several factors based on type of weapon, usage and situation (Petty, 2004).
§ The impact of the weapon on the suspect depended on various factors such as distance and area of impact.
§ Training in use and handling of non-lethal weapons is critical to ensure proper use.
§ There is a need to develop more effective and less dangerous non-lethal weapons.
Police Accountability: Current Issues and Research Needs
This paper provides a different perspective to the use of non-lethal weapons – the policy. The paper mentions about the Supreme Court case of Tennessee v. Garner and the decision that spurred the adoption of restrictive use of lethal weapons across the country.
According to the paper, the new policy of restricting the use of deadly force in New York City Police Department was effective in reducing the overall number of firearms injuries. What is important to notice was that this policy did not result in any unanticipated adverse consequences such as officer deaths or injuries or increase in the crime rates. Another important aspect is that there were very limited attempts by the police officers to circumvent the requirements of the policy.
The paper also cites the reduction of the overall rate of shootings by the Memphis Police Department following the adoption of a restrictive lethal force policy. The Memphis data also indicated a significant reduction in the racial disparity among the people, as a result of elimination the shooting of unnamed and non-assault persons. The disparity between African Americans and whites killed by the police was cut by half.
The paper also mentions an important aspect of non-lethal force usually unnoticed. Less-than-lethal action includes any action that utilize either an officer’s body or any less lethal weapon.
Currently, all the police departments have written policies governing the use of force. However the policies vary considerably across department in terms of the details of implementation. The use of force policies include the legitimate purposes for which the force may be used, the types of force that are authorized, the types of forces that are unauthorized and the specific circumstances in which force is authorized or forbidden.
The paper also poses a question on the reporting of the use of force. It suggests that certain organizational characteristics of police departments are effective in reducing the incidence of the use of force. Also certain departments that require a supervisor or other official to complete the use of force reports have lower use of force rates than departments where the officer who is involved in each incident completes the force reports. Some studies like Alpert and MacDonald (2001) found that departments that use force reports for a specific have higher overall use of force rates. There could be several interpretations to this study result. One interpretation is that using force reports represents a more intensive level of supervision and accountability. The resulting higher rate of user of force is also helps in greater accountability and fewer force incidents are hidden from the view of police commanders.
There are also several methodological problems in measuring the impact of less-than-lethal force, especially if the study involves muti site. One of the issues is that the use of force policies varies considerably between departments in what kinds of force are used and authorized, which kinds of force are required to be reported and also the process of reviewing the force reports. Another major issue is the revision of policies of individual departments. This makes the retrospective studies and comparison difficult. In addition, the variations in policies can make the comparisons difficult as the reporting in the level of review or analysis (Walker, 2006).
The key points to be noted from this paper from the perspective of this research are:
§ Non-lethal force also includes the action by the police force, more than just weapons. This makes policies an important factor for measuring the effectiveness of the non-lethal force.
§ There has been a decrease in the number of fatalities when non-lethal force is used.
§ There is a difference in details in implementation of non-lethal policies from department to department, although there is consistent adoption of non-lethal force.
§ The way of reporting of non-lethal differs from one department to another. This makes a study difficult as the parameters could change significantly.
Chapter Three – Methodology
The methodology involves the analysis of the research data to test the hypothesis of the research. It also intends to extract the following information:
§ What is the perception of the police force that directly uses the non-lethal weapons on the effectiveness of the weapons.
§ Are there policies that are followed for using the weapons
§ Have the police officers received effective training.
To collect the details, the questionnaire would be sent to the police officers. In order to obtain as complete information as possible, the questionnaire is filled by the following set of officers:
§ Sheriffs in states of interest: This is required for collecting information whether there is a difference in the perception of police officers in the higher ranks who generally have details of the purpose and strategy behind the different policies of the organisation.
§ Selected police officers: This segment is required to participate in the research as it is important to receive the ground details and verify how much is being practiced and adopted by the organisation. One of the major reasons of why initiatives fail in organisations is because of lack of communication in the right manner.
The data would be then collated to find if there are differences in the perception in different ranks of the police organisation. For each of the segment, it would then be analysed how the data matches with the hypothesis. Additionally the questionnaire helps to identify any issues that are prominent and consistent across the police community and would be the basis for any recommendations for improvement of the use of non-lethal weapons.
The research is focussed on understanding the perception of the police force on the use of non-lethal weapons. The research does not involve any questions that require the participants to reveal any information that is confidential in nature. The personal identity of the police personnel is not stored in the questionnaire due to concerns of any potential misuse of the information if the information is received in wrong hands.
In addition, the research does not attempt to retrieve any information that can be used against the participant irrespective of the information provided as response to the questionnaire. The questionnaire does not require the participant to put signature on the form and certify. Hence it is not necessary to include consent form.
The methodology used for the research is based on collection of information from police force through using a questionnaire.
This ensures that the data for the research is received from two levels of officers to take into account both the perspectives. It is expected that at least one in 10 of the responses are from Sheriffs.
Another criterion for understanding whether the data is relevant is to see the spread of the responses. It is expected that the responses are received from at least 50 percent from officers who have used a non-lethal weapon in a live situation.
The following is the steps needed to be completed:
§ Request the police departments to provide response by explaining the research objectives and how the result can help the use of non-lethal weapons.
§ Sending of questionnaire by post to different selected police offices
§ Communicate with the police officers involved in the research.
§ Review the questionnaires to verify if the response received is according to the expected result.
1. Did you ever have any experience using non-lethal weapons for combating crime?
2. If so what kind of non-lethal weapons did you use?
3. What kind of non-lethal weapons do you have access to?
4. Did you undergo extensive training on use of non-lethal weapons?
5. For the following questions, please write the appropriate number for each to indicate your level of agreement with these statements?
1. Completely Disagree
2. Strongly Disagree
5. Strongly Agree
6. Completely Agree
a. Non-lethal weapons are as effective than firearms
b. Non-lethal weapons reduces human casualty without compromising police force’s security
c. Non-lethal weapons are equally effective if the criminals encountered are using lethal weapons.
d. Additional effort to be put in if you use a non-combative weapon
6. Would non-lethal weapons would be equally effective in you activities when compared to lethal weapons?
7. How many instances of use of weapons do you undertake in a year?
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Walker, S. (2006), Police accountability: Current issues and research needs, NIJ.
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Petty, S. C. (2004), Deaths in police confrontation when oleoresin capsicum is used, NCJRS.
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