Los Angeles police have long used “less-lethal” launchers with sponge rounds for crowd control and by SWAT on individuals when less than deadly force can be effectively and safely deployed.

But in July, the Los Angeles Police Department equipped patrol officers from several stations, including the Mission Community Police Station in Mission Hills, with these “guns” and their 40mm sponge rounds, which are intended to incapacitate but not kill a subject, to use on their beats for the first time.

The three-month pilot project, which ended Oct. 31, was designed to expand LAPD’s “less-lethal” options, which already include Tasers, batons, pepper spray and beanbag rounds, on city streets and is part of a broader department effort to curb escalation, said Sgt. Richard Evans, LAPD’s uniform and equipment coordinator.

“The goal is to de-escalate (a situation) as quickly as possible and bring about a resolution ... that is best for all,” Evans said.

An LAPD committee is reviewing the “promising” data and will make a recommendation to Police Chief Charlie Beck about whether to expand the use of these launchers and sponge rounds to patrol officers department-wide, officials told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The sponge rounds, which have a sponge-tipped plastic body and generally do not penetrate the skin, have reportedly been tested or are being used in patrol settings in other cities.

Sponge rounds generally hit harder and can be used at a farther distance than beanbag rounds, making it safer for officers and reducing the likelihood of long-term injury to the suspect, Evans said. The sponge rounds would not replace the beanbag rounds but would be used as an additional tool in an officer’s toolbox, he said.

“Now, we can stay back 100 feet as opposed to being 30 to 40 feet where (a suspect) might charge us with the baseball bat, and we end up shooting them,” Evans said.

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