There was a time not too long ago when the only non-lethal weapon available to American law enforcement officers was a baton. A suspect making a pain of himself but not threatening the life of the arresting officer could expect at least a couple of whacks with a hardened piece of wood.
Today, officers have a wide variety of guns, aerosols, and munitions that are intended to take the fight out of a suspect without causing permanent injury. And the technology is improving both in terms of officer safety and suspect safety.
Somewhere down the line, you or your successors will carry a less-lethal weapon that achieves the Holy Grail of law enforcement technology: It will be an effective less-lethal response to a deadly threat. It will be the real-world version of the "Star Trek" phaser.
That tool is not yet available. So today's less-lethal tools are not a substitute for +P rounds fired from a police handgun.
But there are some really innovative less-lethal weapons that can be used to subdue a suspect who is resisting. Here is our guide to less-lethal patrol weapons now on the market.
Combining pepper spray and a high-intensity flashlight, the Cobra StunLight is designed to transition immediately from an illumination tool to an aerosol weapon. The light has a multi-button system that distinguishes the flashlight trigger from the OC trigger. Plus, it has a solid intimidation factor. When you flip off the safety on the OC trigger, it activates a laser aiming device. The perp may not know what's coming next but, when he sees the laser, he knows it's going to be bad. The OC fires out of the flashlight lens, so you can keep the target lit up when you spray him.
FN Herstal's FN303 is a very versatile air-powered weapon system that fires less-lethal impact munitions. It can be operated as a standalone carbine or it can be mounted on a tactical rifle. The FN303 can fire four different munitions: an impact round, a washable paint round, an indelible paint round, and an OC round. According to FN, the effective range of the FN303 is about 50 yards. It can be used for area saturation with OC at a range of 100 yards.
Licensed from the Swiss company Piexon, Kimber's JPX is an exotic-looking pistol that fires liquid OC at 270 mph. The JPX uses a reloadable two-shot magazine. Its effective range is 21 feet. Earlier versions of the weapon were tested in U.S. corrections facilities and used by patrol officers in Europe. Kimber's new JPX pistol has some very useful refinements, including a Picatinny rail and an optional laser sight.
PepperBall SA-4 Launcher
Designed for patrol operations, the SA-4 PepperBall launcher is a four-shot chemical irritant pistol with a range of 30 feet. It fires a special ImpactPlus PepperBall cartridge that combines Capsaicin III powder and kinetic impact, delivering 20 foot-pounds of energy. The standard PepperBall gun used for crowd control delivers its projectiles at about 8 foot-pounds. The form factor of the SA-4 is like a cross between a radar gun and a flare gun, but the polymer-framed weapon is very light, weighing a little less than 14 ounces empty. Features include a safety-activated laser sight.
Stinger, best known for devices to stun prisoners in corrections applications, entered the patrol stun gun market several years ago. The latest Stinger model is the S-200, a two-dart conductive stun weapon with an effective range of 22 feet. The plastic handgun-shaped S-200 was designed with input from working officers. It features a manual trigger that allows the officer to easily control the duration of the stun, a recessed cartridge well, and an ambidextrous cartridge release. The S-200 works with off-the-shelf batteries.
Taser X26 with Taser Cam
By far, the Taser X26 is the most widely used stun weapon in American law enforcement. The stun gun, which looks an awful lot like a science-fiction weapon, has become as common in patrol operations as batons. Taser International continues to refine and improve its primary product. The X26 hit the market several years ago with the standard 21-foot Taser cartridge. New cartridges are now available that extend the effective range of the weapon to 35 feet. The newest Taser innovation is the Taser Cam, an optional video capture system and battery pack that replaces the X26's standard battery pack. Using MPEG4 compression, the Taser Cam can record almost 90 minutes of black-and-white video. The camera activates as soon as the user flips the safety to the off position, making the Taser ready to fire. Taser International believes the camera will be a vital tool in defending officers against charges of abuse.
TigerLight Non-Lethal Defense System
The TigerLight is a combination rechargeable patrol flashlight and pepper spray canister. Officers can use the extremely bright incandescent flashlight to temporarily blind a subject and then subdue him with a blast of OC. The aerosol is accessed by flipping open the flashlight's end cap and pushing the activator. TigerLight says the system can be deployed in a split second using just one hand. The 1.5-pound TigerLight meets military specifications for water resistance and has gold-plated contacts and a durable hard-coated surface.
Impact Munition Manufacturers
ALS Technologies-Bull Shoals, Ark.-based ALS Technologies makes and sells less-lethal impact munitions and aerosols and trains its customers to use them. The company's signature product is its Power Punch Ballistic Bag bean bag round.
Combined Tactical Systems-This Jamestown, Pa., manufacturer produces a complete line of 12-gauge, 37mm, and 40mm impact munitions, including bean bags, sting balls, and foam batons. It also trains officers in the use of impact munitions.
Defense Technologies-A division of Armor Holdings, Defense Technologies is one of the world's leading manufacturers of patrol aerosols, impact munitions, flash-bangs, and other law enforcement tools.
MK Ballistics-Hollister, Calif.-based MK Ballistics makes a wide variety of 12-gauge and 37mm/40mm impact munitions. The company also makes less-lethal launchers and chemical munitions.
Leading Patrol Aerosol Manufacturers
Combined Tactical Systems