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HOME  |  ABOUT  |  NEWS  |  10-01-2003

The less-lethal toolbox | Law enforcement officers test the products on the use-of-force continuum

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(Fort Atkinson, WI) Article by Lindsey Bertomen published in the October 2003 issue of Law Enforcement Technology magazine.

The suspect and officers were at an impasse. When officers moved closer, the suspect, locked in his pickup, raised his weapon and yelled. When they backed off, he set the knife down. Later the suspect took the knife and began sawing at himself. It was time for officers to make their move. An officer fired something that looked like a paintball marker through the truck's rear window. The suspect dropped his weapon. His eyes slammed shut. He blindly stumbled out of the truck. He had just been introduced to PepperBall projectiles, a less-lethal system.

Today's law enforcement officers face an increasing number of unconventional scenarios like the one described. Situations may include "assisted" suicides and scenarios involving EDPs (emotionally disturbed persons). Police agencies have had to reassess their tactics to further their goal of subduing a subject without harming the individual. Less-lethal products bridge the gap between things that can kill and compliance through verbal commands.

What is less lethal?

Less lethal is a degree or application of force used to control a situation. It is not designed to be fatal. Less-lethal force can be used when a threat is present but not imminent. An example would be a suspect holding a firearm without raising it in a threatening manner. (...)

The use of force is dynamic, not static. A subject's actions dictate the level of force used. Less-lethal force is now illustrated through a use-of-force continuum. This model shows that an officer has tools available and must select the appropriate option from a "shelf" based on the suspect, situation and perception. (...)

"Law Enforcement Technology" experts tested some less-lethal offerings to help agencies find the right mix of force options for their officers.

Protective Armor

The testing team reviewed the Tegman Mawashi Riot and Correctional Crowd Control Armor from Mawashi Inc. of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This suit is designed for significant kinetic energy absorption. Its panels are constructed out of a combination of hard and soft material that is tear, flame, moisture, abrasion and fluid resistant.

Tegman Mawashi suits offer Level II and Level III protection, indicating the amount of coverage they provide. Tegman provides models specifically built for corrections and riot control. The corrections suit offers a higher abrasion resistance. The riot suit is both flame and moisture retardant. Both styles feature chest/upper body and leg/girdle assemblies.

The suits offer more than adequate coverage. Users can cinch up the wrap-around chest panels, making it hard to poke unprotected areas. There is a protective girdle, large thigh panels and knee panels in several sections. The groin cup is reinforced. Both suits have officer rescue handles below the back of the neck. The Level III model hides this handle with an additional panel.

The Level II suit has a full Velcro and snap panel on the chest front and back, compatible with most modular tactical accessories. The suits are designed to accommodate a duty belt, but require an officer to shift some things to make it fit.

They are hydration compatible, a nice feature. Although ballistic protection could be built into the suits, officers most likely will wear the suits over ballistic vests and uniforms. This means they will be hot, regardless of the climate.

The Level II afforded more flexibility with less coverage. The suit's upper body was slightly heavier than a protective vest. Testers were able to roll, punch, swing a baton, ground fight and kick in it without marked restriction. Pepper spray and other liquid attacks beaded up on the material and hosed off easily.

When the suits first arrived, testers thought they appeared too bulky for riot use. The suits were a collection of padded sections that attached to the body with Velcro and quick-release buckles.

The suits' resemblances to sports protection equipment prompted testers to get out their hockey sticks and baseball bats. They distracted one wearer and tried a full slapstick shot, sans puck, on the back panel of the Level III suit. Another tester took a few shots on the chest from a Louisville Slugger. Not only could the suits absorb the blows, but testers could also simulate talking on the radio while absorbing base hits. Testers wearing the suits described a full-force baton strike as being similar to a "light shove." These suits would be great in full-contact baton training classes.

Our testing included striking wearers on the legs, from shin to groin. Even where adjacent panels connected, baton strikes stung but did not bruise. The suits were also tested for impact from traditional rioting tools like rocks and sticks. Testing revealed the wearer did not get the wind knocked out of him when swept off his feet by a blow.

This is not the kind of equipment a department should field without training. It took some practice to put the suits on. However, once learned and adjusted, an officer could do it himself. Special units that regularly do cell extractions or crowd officer rescue will most likely purchase Level III suits. Level II users probably will be designated crowd control responders from larger agencies. These users could move to a rally point and don the suits, moving toward the crowd.

Law enforcement equipment distributor, Streicher's, offers a multitude of options for this gear, including a urination system. Our testing team recommends administrators factor in hydration systems, in-service training and wicking undergarments with each purchase. (...)

> View the publication of the article on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website