Thinking About “Less-Than-Deadly” Force

UnknownI have to admit that I am having trouble understanding why police today seem unwilling to discuss the possibility of using “less-than-deadly” force when confront suspects armed with a blunt or edged weapon.

During my years teaching police defensive tactics, the response to a suspect who had an edged weapon was to use your baton — not firearm. I’m sorry, but that’s how we trained during the tumultuous 1960s. I remember few shootings in these circumstances.

Since that time, a lot has changed in both training and attitude.

I will reserve discussing situations involving suspects with firearms. I think it is generally understood (and even accepted) that a person threatening police officers with a firearm may lose his or her life.

But let’s get back to these “standoffs” where police are called to situations in which a person is either mentally ill or severely emotionally disturbed, has a weapon that is not a firearm, and refuses to comply with police orders to “drop the weapon and get down on the ground!”

Too often, police seem to be trained to immediately go to multiple shots to the “center-mass” of the subject — a most fatal action.

In modern 21st century policing, I suggest that police try to use less-than-deadly responses to these encounters. Why? Because it does not seem right to take a person’s life in these situations without trying something less deadly.

But this means police will have to be re-trained, and re-trained well, in order to meet one of the primary recommendations of chiefs who are members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in their January, 2016 document, “30 Guiding Principles for Use of Force;” namely that “The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.”

What this means is frankly this: Police must develop less-than-lethal policies, tactics, and responses to many of these standoff situations where a firearm is not present.

Some instrumentality, and their requisite training, to consider:

  • 60″-72″ wooden batons (see bo staff) to strike and disarm knife-wielders.
  • Plastic see-through shields to protect officers with batons who are approaching suspects with knives. 
  • Electronic control devices (ECDs) like TASERS.
  • Traumatic pistol rounds that stun but do not penetrate the body.
  • Stun guns that fire bean bags for a stunning, not killing, effect.
  • Japanese “fishnet” guns.
  • Shooting suspects other than center-mass (less-than-deadly firearm use as some European agencies do; I know this is very controversial here in the U.S; however, if other methods are used to contain these incidents, firearms will not have to come into play).

Here are some other posts I have written about less-than-deadly police responses (quite frankly, I am an advocate of the bo staff. A team of two officers working together can easily be trained to disable a person threatening with a knife — see the bo staff link above).

The point I am trying to make is that taking a life in these situations seems not to be acceptable in our communities; therefore, we need to develop new tactics and strategies if we are to rebuild trust and legitimacy. Officer safety does not have to be compromised either.

Now is the time for police leaders and tactical training staff to develop effective methods of containing persons with edged or blunt weapons without having to take their lives.