A 2030 Vision

Can less-lethal weapons advance to the point that police can use them instead of deadly force? Axon's Rick Smith believes they can.

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Editor David GriffithEditor David GriffithPhoto: Kelly Bracken

In this issue there's a conversation with Axon CEO Rick Smith about his new book, "The End of Killing: How Our Newest Technologies Can Solve Humanity's Oldest Problem." Smith's book is an argument for developing new less-lethal weapons that will reduce the amount of killing in law enforcement and in the military.

He's not saying that lethal weapons don't have a place and he's not criticizing today's officers for using lethal force because, as he says, officers today have no other option for defending themselves in deadly situations or in perceived deadly situations. But Smith believes technology will give officers new options for defending themselves and others. He's also dedicating the considerable resources of Axon to develop a less-lethal electric weapon that is as reliable and effective as a firearm in incapacitating a person.

If the technological hurdles can be overcome, (See the interview titled "The Futurist") Smith believes that the number of fatal officer-involved shootings can be substantially reduced by 2030. In Smith's 2030 vision, officers would still carry a duty pistol but their next-generation electronic control weapon (ECW) would be their primary defense tool, unless circumstances required true deadly force.

It's a fascinating concept and one that smacks a little of science fiction. Smith says some of his law enforcement friends are skeptical. But others make the point that even in the deadliest situation, law enforcement's duty is to stop the threat, not kill the person presenting the threat.

Think what a practical alternative to deadly force would mean for law enforcement. The fact that the person would recover from law enforcement stopping the threat he or she presents is game changing at every level. It would save officers and their agencies all of the repercussions of using deadly force, including community outrage and perhaps riots, lawsuits, and just the spiritual and emotional toll that killing another person inflicts upon a law enforcement officer, especially in cases where the subject was shot for the perception of a threat and later found not to have presented a threat. You have to make split-second decisions to use deadly force. Wouldn't it be better for all if such decisions were not final?

Ask yourself that question while reading the "Shots Fired" article in this issue. It tells the story of Daron Wyatt, an Anaheim, CA, police sergeant who was involved in a fatal officer-involved shooting back in 2009.

Wyatt faced a no-win situation. After stopping a suspected meth dealer driving a van erratically on city streets, Wyatt and his partner approached the man's vehicle. And the stop progressively went bad. It went so bad that Wyatt ended up trapped in the passenger side of the suspect's speeding vehicle. Believing that he was about to be killed in a traffic accident at a rapidly approaching intersection or fatally attacked by the suspect, Wyatt drew his duty pistol and fired a single shot, killing the man.

That single shot reverberated through Wyatt's life for 10 years. The man's family sued him and the city of Anaheim in 2011. And the case dragged on for eight years. It ended a few months ago with a verdict that the shooting was justified.

Smith's vision is to develop technology so that future Sergeant Wyatts can avoid killing the suspect and everything that comes with it, including the hell of eight years of legal limbo. More importantly, the technology he is promoting could go a long way toward ending the scourge of "suicide by cop."

Make no mistake, Smith is a police supporter. His book is dedicated to law enforcement and the military. He's also a supporter of the Second Amendment. But the title of the book, "The End of Killing," and the cover image of an unloaded revolver has led some people to believe it is anti-gun. It's actually a call for transforming less-lethal weapon technology and making it so effective and reliable that it can be used instead of guns, in some cases.

And I believe the Founders would heartily approve. The Second Amendment was a brilliant piece of prescient writing. The Founders used the word "arms," not musket, nor even rifle, because they realized that weapon technology would evolve.

Maybe weapon technology can evolve to the point where the effect of some arms used by law enforcement in deadly force situations is to incapacitate, not wound or kill. We'll see. 

David Griffith is editor of POLICE Magazine/PoliceMag.com.

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