The low-down on non-lethal weapons


In today's C1 Exclusive, training expert Dave Young looks at non-lethal weapons and tells you which ones are effective, and which ones you should consider using.

As the 2008 calendar year comes to a close, I want to address a few questions I've been asked with regard to non-lethal weapons, and explore a few important factors.

I'm pretty well schooled in non-lethal weapons. For over twenty years, in addition to researching and using non-lethal weapons, I've developed training programs and designing strategies for their deployment. I've been sprayed with all of the common chemical aerosols — OC, CS and CN in liquid, power and pyrotechnic form — from companies here in the United States and abroad. I've experienced dry stun contacts, shocks from probes escort belts, and have had darts fired into my body from various manufactures like NOVA, Tasertron (now defunct), Taser and the new Stinger device, even the new Stun Cuff. I've been shot with projectiles from the pepper ball, FN303, 12 gauge, 37/40MM specialty Impact munitions from MK Ballistics, Defensive Technology, Federal Laboratories, SAGE, ALS Technologies, Combined Tactical Systems and more. I've felt the effects of microwave blasts and energy-directed weapons.  


(Photo Credit/Sgt. John Stanley/LASD) 

That said, I want to dispense my best advice on these topics. I'll do this by addressing important questions that we should try to answer for 2009.

What's better, to create a pause in combat by affecting the subject's breathing and vision, or to create neural and muscular dysfunction to their body?

Non-lethal devices are designed to create a pause in combat.  This pause in combat can be mental and physical, or at times, both. Both are optimal.

It's often been said that the mind will go where the body tells it to. If the mind is hindered (a mental pause), that can greatly hinder an individual's physical ability to resist. (Note, this often does not hold true if the person’s mind is hindered through, alcohol, drugs or the emotional hardships that can create an irrational person to do irrational things in the first place.)

Physical pauses induced by non-lethal weapons, on the other hand, create physical disabilities in the body, for instance, the sensation of pain to the facial area of heat and burning from chemical aerosols; pain from being hit with an electrical device or specialty impact munitions; visual impairment from chemical aerosols; the muscular dysfunction which is created when a subject’s body is introduced to a series electrical shocks, pulse charges into the body can create a temporary dysfunction and physical inability to control their own body.


Which is safer for the officer vs. What is safer for the subject?

In order to define what is safer, we need to know what our alternatives are, and we need to gauge the threat of injury to both the officer and subject.

An officer needs to look at his own safety first, the safety of the subject second, public safety third, and public image forth. (Sometimes, policies that are written in a non-stressful environment, bump the subject's safety up to the #1 concern. That's determining what's "safe," for better or worse, goes hand-in-hand with what's written in your policy.)

When an officer is engaged in a physical encounter and does have the option of deadly force, he would have to make the subject verbally comply or go hands on. When the non-lethal option is not available, he can either disengage, or engage with deadly force. Deadly force is not optimal for the subject, and society generally frowns on it; we also have to take into considerations of personal injury and threats to the officer and bystanders.

Apply the " Greater Danger Theory:" This is the possibility of increased danger to the officer and bystanders if the officer does not stop the threat.


When are chemical aerosols projectors, as opposed to electrical immobilization devices used?

The selection of a non-lethal weapon depends on a few factors:

  • Confidence. When an officer's life is threatened or physically challenged, an officer will select the weapon delivery system they feel the most confident with.
  • Distance. How far from is the officer from the threat, and what will give the officer the best deployment for control?
  • Environment. What kind of area is the officer in? Is it windy, crowded with people, in the flow of traffic, on a roof top etc.
  • Number of threats. How many threats or subjects are there? At times we can get focused on one threat at a time or the one that is closet to us; however if there are multiple threats certain weapons will not be as effective as another. At times, your non-lethal weapons can be used in combination with to increase effectiveness.
  • Possibility of injury to self. Ask yourself: If use this non-lethal weapon, what is the possibility of getting injured if it works or does not work?  (Remember, non-lethal weapons don't work on everyone!)
  • Is there a possibility of injury to the subject? Ask yourself, if I use this non-lethal weapon, what is the possibility of injury to the subject if it works or does not work?  (Remember, another force option may need to be deployed.)
  • What is the possibility of injury to the bystanders? Ask yourself, if I use this non-lethal weapon, what is the possibility of injury to the bystanders if it works or does not work?  (Know your back stop target and beyond!)


What do I need to consider when determining which chemical aerosol projector is better than another?

  • Safety: Is the aerosol safe to use, who has gotten injured from being contaminated.  Was it from the application or chemical formulation, or from the way the person was decontaminated?
  • Consistency: Is the formulation you are using consistent, when I was sprayed with it in training did I get the same response in the field or was it drastically different, is the aerosol unit dependable?
  • Decontamination effects: How long does it take a subject to recover from the given formulation — days, or minutes? Is the spray so overwhelming that it knocks you down immediately, and if so, what will it do to the officer who is using it? Am I having to supervise the contaminated subject for hours after being sprayed, etc.?
  • Research the safety of non-lethal options for yourself. Review the results of health testing, other agency evaluation or even outside testing from the NIJ (or other field studies).


What is better to use: chemical aerosols or electrical devices?

It's difficult to say, given that they each affects different part of the body, and when use correctly both have a great effective ratio. Both can fail, as well.

Weigh the following:

  • Chemical aerosols affect the breathing and lungs of a person, which combines both the physical with mental effects and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject.
  • Chemical aerosols affect vision which combines both the physical with mental effects and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject.
  • Chemical aerosols affect the threshold of pain on a subject from facial burning, which combines both the physical with mental effects and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject.
  • Electrical devices affect the muscles and nervous system of a person, which combines both the physical with mental effects and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject – note that accuracy with this weapons is more vital them with chemical aerosols.
  • Electrical devices affect the physical coordination of a subjects body, which combines both the physical with mental effects, and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject, especially if the connection from the device to subject is broken.
  • Electrical devices affect the threshold of pain on a subject from muscle soreness, which combines both the physical with mental effects, and in some cases can cause a subject to comply or enrage a subject.
  • You have a far greater physical recovery from being hit with an electrical device than from being contaminated with a chemical aerosol. I would much rather be hit with a electrical device then sprayed with a chemical agent due to this quicker recovery time.


What is better to use: the FN 303 or the Pepperball?

The Pepperball projectiles are circular in shape and design to rotate through the air, while the FN303 is designed to be more aerodynamic: the front part is circular in shape but the rear is redesigned for a spinning motion when in flight for quicker movement through the air.

Both have various rounds for selection and rely on pain effectiveness and chemical deployment.

I have found that the pepper ball is most effective and safe within the 10-40 feet ranges for maximum point of aim and point of impact. I have found that the FN 303 is most effective and safe within the 30-60 feet range for maximum point-of-aim and point-of-impact. Each of these distances will vary based on wind and weather (as well as whether you're inside or outside).

Next, consider how many hits from each will it take for effectiveness and recovery. Since the pain threshold varies from individual to individual, this is hard to define. This about it in terms of a person knowing they are being hit with a projectile, versus being hit unexpectedly; or a person being hit with a weapon that they know for fact will not kill or harm them, versus believing they could be killed or harmed.

At this time, there are no documented deaths with the deployment of pepper ball – I have been hit at point blank ranges with the pepper ball to the left bicep area and have sustained nothing more than heavy bruising, discoloration to the skins surface followed by swollen capillaries. At this time, there has been one documented death from being hit with the FN 303 during the Boston winning the world series – the closet I have been hit with the FN 303 is 10 feet. 

I've been hit with the FN 303 at the close distance of 10 feet to the right thigh bicep area, and have sustained nothing more than heavy bruising, discoloration to the skin's surface followed by swollen capillaries.

Both projectiles pack a powerful punch; however, you still have to rely on accuracy and the capacity to strike specific areas on the body.

Here's to non-lethal compliance and safety in 2009! 

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