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Not Going for the Kill

SWAT teams know less-lethal tactics can be much more varied and complicated than those for firearms.

March 31, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Bringing the Threat to You

Barricade situations and warrant searches often find subjects in familiar territory, giving them the upper hand. Subjects hiding in hard-to-reach areas pose an especially significant danger risk for SWAT teams. For example, an officer poking his head up into an attic is a sitting duck. To limit officers' vulnerability, it's safer to push a subject out to where the SWAT team has the advantage. Chemical agents are often the best tool for this job.

"When we have an arrest team serving a search warrant and someone runs back down to a room and we've cleared the rest of the structure, we'll try to get them to come to us with voice contact," says Parsons of Tulsa PD. "But if they don't respond we can run back outside the house and break a window and put PepperBalls into the room to push them toward the arrest team.

"Other times officers will just put PepperBalls into that room to get them to come to us [in the first place]. That way you don't have to go into that space where they are."

Armored vehicles afford even more protection for officers while deploying less-lethal devices into a structure to gain compliance. Members of the Kentucky State Police Special Response Team screw pipes onto the ends of their Protectojet projectile launchers from Advanced Materials Laboratories. This allows them to deploy the Protectojet's potent liquid chemical agent from portholes in their LENCO BearCat. Trooper Norman Preston and his team members purchase different lengths of pipe at Lowe's for different situations.  

"In one incident, we fired several rounds of barricade-penetrating OC and CS into the house with no response at all. But once we located where in the house the suspect was, we were able to move the armored car close enough to deploy the Protecto-jet through an opening in the side of the house. And within probably two minutes of deployment, the suspect surrendered peacefully," says Preston.

Some enterprising officers even use similar tactics outside of buildings. "We've used PepperBalls in conjunction with 12-gauge launchers if someone on a car stop doesn't want to come out [of the vehicle], and then we'll shut the door," says Parsons. "We've ported a window with a 12-gauge launcher and then put the PepperBalls inside the car with them."

Using gas and fog in a similar way can be very effective. But the smoke devices that teams used to employ to flush people out of structures had a tendency to spark and catch buildings on fire. New chemical delivery systems don't ignite, but they don't have the ability to creep into every crevice like the old method.

This difference allows subjects to avoid the effects of the gas if they can find a space set apart from the rest of a structure, like a mudroom. Such ingenuity on the part of the bad guy requires multiple tactics to end a barricade situation.

In one such situation, Calvert County's tactical team used explosive breaching and gas with no effect. "Nothing was bringing this guy out. He just kept firing back at our armored vehicles with a shotgun," says Thomas.

"Ultimately, we did a second breach that dislodged him from where he had been hiding. That's how he had been beating the gas. Then we were able to hit him with the FN 303 [impact munition launcher] and get him in handcuffs."

Impact Munitions

Launchers like FNH USA's FN 303 that deploy impact munitions can be used in virtually any situation that requires stopping a threat from a distance through pain compliance, including barricade situations.

"We'll have one less-lethal launcher [with impact munitions] on every side of a barricaded structure. That way no matter which side the subject comes out of, we have that less-lethal ability there so that we hopefully don't have to hurt them," says Corpus Christi's Brandon.

One incident in Corpus Christi developed so quickly that when Brandon arrived on scene with the first SWAT officer and one 40mm launcher, the weapon was used immediately. A mentally ill woman wielding a knife and scissors was repeatedly running out of her house toward police and then retreating. One round above the knee was enough to stop her.

"Without tools like that there's nothing left to do," says Brandon. "If she keeps coming at you, she's going to induce a situation where someone shoots her."

Deploying from a distance is essential in ending such incidents while limiting danger to officers. "Distance gives us time and time gives us options," says Sgt. Brian Muller, head of the Technology Exploration Project at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

To accommodate a variety of situations, impact munitions are available in 12-gauge, 37mm, 40mm, and in various shapes. Lightfield Less Lethal even sells a line of projectiles available in close range, mid-range, and extended range versions.

"For patrol officers, our primary less-lethal is TASER. But for SWAT, situations are often more serious and we don't want to get close enough to use it," says Brandon. "So 40mm impact munitions give us a great option."

Many SWAT teams also plan to use the TASER XREP in situations that call for a less-lethal projectile. These wireless fin-stabilized devices deploy from 12-gauge shotguns pack a punch and have the added benefit of incapacitating a subject, just like an X26. If you're dealing with a noncompliant person who isn't feeling pain, this can still stop him from a distance.

Impact munitions can even be used on inanimate objects. Calvert County's tactical unit uses its FN 303 launchers to safely shoot out lights to darken an area around a barricaded building.

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