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Less-Lethal: Bean-Bag Rounds

The 12-gauge bean bag round offers law enforcement an effective and efficient alternative to deadly force.

March 01, 2002  |  by Larkin Fourkiller

Lethal and Less Lethal

Contagious fire, storage location, proper munitions identification, and lethal cover are just some of the special considerations that need to be addressed when deciding which weapon system protocol best suits your agency's needs, both philosophically and operationally.

A dedicated weapon system ensures that a particular shotgun is designated as a less-lethal only launching platform and is usually marked for easy identification as such. A typical operating procedure usually delineates that the weapon and a predetermined number of bean bag rounds are stored separate from other armament. Protocol often mandates a pre-patrol inspection of this weapon system to ensure the readiness of the shotgun and the absence of lethal ammunition.

Some departments identify dedicated less lethal weapons launchers by marking the stocks and forearms.

A major drawback to the dedicated weapon approach is that contingency planning with this system requires that an officer armed with a conventional weapon provide cover for the officer armed with the bean bag shotgun, especially in situations involving firearms. An obvious advantage to this protocol is that it safeguards against the inadvertent mixing of lethal and less-lethal ammunition.

Mixed use or "transitional weapon systems," are also being used by a number of police departments throughout the country. Procedures at these agencies include the "dumping" of lethal ammunition in lieu of less lethal rounds, a mixed stacking of both types of force options, and the use of a launching platform that can facilitate both lethal and less-lethal deployments.

The advantages to this system are readily apparent. It permits the immediate availability of either force option and deployment of a bean bag requires only one officer on the scene. This can be an important issue when support personnel are limited or non-existent.

Yellow tape on the barrel of this shotgun indicates that it is loaded with less lethal ammunition.

Of course, an obvious concern with using the same shotgun for lethal and less-lethal ammunition is the potential discharge of unintended munitions. This mistake has claimed the lives of at least two suspects.

Although not always effective, nor always appropriate, shotgun bean bag rounds have become a valuable police intervention resource. The ability of these less-lethal weapons to de-escalate dangerous situations saves lives of police and citizenry alike.

Bean Bag Policy and Procedures

When implementing a bean bag weapons program, you need to develop an operational philosophy, define training and record-keeping requirements, and establish pre-deployment and post-deployment policies.

Pre-deployment concerns include:

  • Who is authorized to use the weapons?
  • Where will the shotguns and ammunition be stored?
  • How will guns loaded with bean bags be marked to avoid confusion?
  • Will you use dedicated or mixed-use weapon protocol?
  • How will bean bag launchers be made available to field units?
  • How will authorized bean bag trained officers be called to the scene?
  • What tactics will you use for lethal cover and apprehension?

Post-deployment concerns include:

  • Medical examination of the impacted subject
  • Reporting requirements (incident/use-of-force forms)
  • Evidence collection (audio, imagery)
  • Investigative criteria
  • Review process
  • Media releases

Larkin Fourkiller operates Fourkiller Consulting, a police tactical training company. He is a nationally recognized less lethal instructor and FBINA graduate who can be reached at

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Comments (1)

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Eric @ 8/13/2015 10:23 AM

Kevlar bean bags might be a good idea to prevent rupture from lead birdshot? Just a guess.

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