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What Nonlethal Weapons Can Be Used by the Police?

Updated on November 08, 2016
All images in this article are Wikipedia Commons photos
All images in this article are Wikipedia Commons photos

Many less-than-lethal weapons have been developed for use by the police and/or the military


In recent times, many suspects - some of which unarmed - have been shot and even killed by police officers, and this use of deadly force may not have seemed justified. Are there other ways of dealing with unruly people, defiant suspects or dangerous criminals that doesn’t require the use of deadly force? Please keep reading to see a list of the various nonlethal substances and devices used by the police:


Nightsticks, batons and clubs
Nightsticks, batons and clubs
PHASR rifle
PHASR rifle
Tear gas
Tear gas
Police person in riot gear
Police person in riot gear
SWAT team
SWAT team
Rubber coated bullets
Rubber coated bullets
Plastic baton round
Plastic baton round
Taser
Taser
Taser demonstration
Taser demonstration
Sound weapon
Sound weapon
Water cannon
Water cannon
Test of vortex ring gun
Test of vortex ring gun


Nightstick

In the United States, the use of nonlethal weapons by law enforcement began in the middle 1800s. While patrolling America’s city streets, cops in those days often carried a nightstick or other type of club or baton. (Many nowadays still carry them while walking or driving.) But, as anybody who has been hit by one of these weapons can attest, their usage can inflict great harm or even cause death!

Then, by the middle 1900s, cops began using other nonlethal – or usually-nonlethal – means for subduing or capturing suspects or deterring unlawful activity.

Pepper Spray

Not surprisingly, pepper spray contains capsaicin, the stuff in chili peppers that makes your eyes water and your nose run like a faucet. Its biggest advantage in subduing uncontrollable folks is that it causes temporary blindness and difficulty breathing, the effects of which lasting from 30 to 60 minutes. Pepper spray can also be used against other mammals, especially dogs and bears. Unfortunately, pepper spray has contributed to the death of some people, particularly those with asthma or other respiratory ailments.

Chemical Mace (Tear Gas)

Mace is an aerosol spray containing tear gas, a lachrymatory agent, as well as hydrocarbon solvents. Where legal, private citizens can purchase a small can of mace and use it for self defense. Like pepper spray, but more powerful, mace attacks the eyes, lungs and mouth, inducing pain, skin irritation, vomiting and temporary blindness. As for tear gas, it is often used for riot control and in warfare. Interestingly, tear gas was first used in warfare during World War One, presumably before the use of poison gas, which, of course, is quite harmful and often deadly.

Bean Bag Round

A bean bag round is a shotgun round that contains a square-shaped, fabric “pillow” holding about 40 grams of lead shot. This round is designed to cause no penetration and minimal long-term damage, yet often causes muscle spasms, allowing police time to subdue suspects. The effective range of a bean bag round is about 20 yards. But people have been killed by bean bag rounds, because, after all, they are projectiles; and, sometimes, police accidentally use regular shotgun rounds when they’re supposed to being using bean bag rounds!

Taser

The Taser is an electroshock weapon developed in the 1970s. Using compressed nitrogen charges, it fires two hook-like electrodes that send an electrical current into a person, causing involuntary muscle spasms. The weapon can also be used without propelling electrodes, producing instead an electrical arc that can be thrust into a person. Tasers are designed to be used instead of firearms, greatly reducing deaths in the process; fewer injuries to police officers have been achieved with its use as well. Unfortunately, cardiac arrest has resulted from the use of Tasers, so its usage is not completely nonlethal! Incidentally, the police officers on the TV show Cops Reloaded tend to use the Taser more than any other nonlethal weapon.

Stun Gun

Similar to the Taser, stun guns are designed to stun or incapacitate a person by touching them with the electrodes of this electrical device. These stun guns come in various sizes and shapes. The baton-like cattle prod is one such device, which was developed in the 1950s. (It can be used on people too, of course. ) One such stun gun looks like a smart phone; another is included in a long flashlight. Stun “rounds” can also be fired from shotguns.

Web Shot

Inspired by Spiderman comics and movies, this shotgun-like device fires a Kevlar net, which, traveling at about 65 mph, wraps up the suspect or criminal in a spider-like fashion, until police can handcuff him or her.

Laser Rifle

Lasers can be used for many battlefield applications, including knocking aircraft or drones from the sky, but a similar device can be used against disobedient folks or criminals. The Dazzler or PHASR weapon, a rifle-like, hand-held device, is an energy-directed weapon, a burst of low-intensity radiation from which can temporarily blind or disorient a person. Similar laser rifles can be used to inflict permanent blindness on people, but the use of these devices is banned by United Nations’ protocols.

Sticky Foam

Guns have been developed that can fire multiple rounds of compressed “tacky” or tenacious foam, which can entangle or impair suspects. Thereafter, this sticky foam must be removed by using strong solvents. Unfortunately, this gummy, blobby stuff cannot be applied quickly, allowing people time to escape its usage; nevertheless, if you can get enough of it on somebody fast enough, it may smother that person, though this may result in the person’s death!

Stink Bomb

Another way of getting rid of people quickly without firing lethal projectiles at them, the stink bomb is truly a nonlethal device, as nobody has died from smelling something terrible, have they? Stink bombs often use sulfur-based compounds that smell like human feces, rotten eggs or decaying flesh, while some bombs hit you with a repellent “cheap perfume” smell. Interestingly, the American military has super stink bombs that can be fired from artillery!

Rubber Bullets

Rubber bullets are exactly what the name implies, bullets made of rubber or metal rounds covered with rubber. However, in current times, many rubber bullets have been replaced with plastic bullets, which don’t bounce uncontrollably and are not as lethal. (Wax, wood or sponge may also be used.) These types of projectiles are known as baton rounds. In use since 1970 in the US and other countries, rubber bullets can – and have - inflicted serious injuries or death and are therefore primarily used against large numbers of riotous people in military contexts, in which casualties may be easier to accept.

Water Cannon

Water cannons have been used by police for riot control. These devices are similar to pressure washers but not as powerful. But a stream of water directed at somebody, constituting a kind of projectile, can cause bodily injury or death.

Flashlight Gun

Designed for usage by U.S Navy Seals, this flashlight-like weapon can hit people with an adjustable beam of LED light that can cause people to become disoriented and/or nauseous. Other simpler and cheaper flashlight weapons can hit people with a beam of light that is 100 times as bright as the average flashlight, essentially blinding people by the light!

Heat Gun

This so-called active-denial weapon can be used to hit people with a beam of microwave radiation, which shakes up the fat and water molecules in people’s skin, essentially cooking them like chickens in a microwave oven. Understandably, people subjected to such radiation will scatter within seconds. Alas, these microwaves will heat up just about anything else in the area and can also be used to inflict radiation burns or, if the beam is adjusted to high intensity, kill people within seconds!

Vortex Ring Gun

The vortex ring gun fires small rings of gas at supersonic speed. People hit with these rings will generally drop to the ground, allowing police time to cuff them. Or these propelled rings of gas can be used to mark people with dyes or douse them with malodorous or incapacitating chemicals. Only considered for military use, the vortex ring gun has a range of about 100 feet, but has never been considered feasible for usage on the battlefield or by the police. But, as research continues, its usage could change in the future, of course.

Heat gun, an active-denial weapon
Heat gun, an active-denial weapon

Afterword


In the early twenty-first century, Americans have seen a troubling increase in the shooting deaths of unarmed suspects. One of these unfortunate people was Amadou Diallo, a young black man who had emigrated from Guinea. Many other unarmed black men, as well as men and women of other races or ethnic groups have been shot and killed by police. Could nonlethal means or weapons have been used instead, saving numerous lives in the process?

Now may be the time for the police to rely much more heavily on the use of nonlethal weapons. As the aforementioned list shows, many such weapons exist. But perhaps new ones need to be developed, ones that are much more effective, easy to use – and never lethal. Then one day we may look back on these seemingly barbaric times and wonder why we allowed so many unarmed suspects to be killed without doing something to reduce or even eliminate such killings.

Please leave a comment!

© 2016 Kelley

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    • kathleenjusti 4 months ago

      Very informative! I did not realize there were so many non-lethal weapons, but even though they may be considered non-lethal, they on the rare occasion can still be lethal given certain circumstances including the person on the receiving end of the actions taken by police. My biggest upset and concern are the individuals who feel they have no other life choices and often given their life experiences since childhood, that is often the case. While issues must be addressed regarding police policies and training in certain areas and circumstances, MORE MUST BE DONE to create options so many individuals who choose crime have a path to become productive adults and citizens. Better and safer neighborhoods and especially better options for education and jobs. It breaks my heart every time I hear a child who may now be a young adult is killed and you see they had a criminal history which could have been different if they had other options growing up. Didn't mean to get off topic, but it was just in the news 3 local high school graduates were arrested last night for robbing two people with a crowbar, and if they had other choices and options for a pathway to success, it is doubtful they would have made the choice they did.

    • Kosmo 4 months ago

      Thanks for the comment, Kathy! using nonlethal weapons is only part of the problem; people need to stop breaking the law and stop resisting arrest. Cleaning up terrible neighborhoods would certainly help in this regard as well. Later!

    • ana64 2 months ago

      I have a question:

      What happens when sonic weapon gets into a hands of a person who uses it for herassment every day 24/7 during day and at night?

      How can the victims protect themself, what kind of proof do they need to ask the police for help?

      I'd like to mention that the Police doesn't want to get involved in the case as they are not aware that such a weapon may be used. The weapon has advanced technology cameras (see through walls) and for this reason it is extremelly hard to catch the stockers. The victims do not know what to do, whom to ask for help.

      Thanks

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