Apr 9, 2020 in Law

Non-Lethal Weapons Used by Law Enforcement

Due to the dramatic shootings that have occurred in the United States in recent years, police officers urge the manufacturers of non-lethal weapons to continue producing safe devices. The main aim is to save lives of both victims and law enforcement agents. The compliance and pacification tools such as pepper sprays, harpoons, and truncheons have already proved their effectiveness in detaining dangerous perpetrators. While some law enforcement agents find less-lethal technologies to be useful, other treat them with caution due to the specific application and effects. The current paper seeks to examine the use of non-lethal weapons from the historical perspective, alternative options, types, cost effectiveness, and risks.

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Historical Perspective

Past experience of using less-lethal weapons significantly reduced the rate of injuries among criminals and police officers. In the nineteenth century, law enforcement agents preferred using wooden clubs and batons to detain offenders. However, police officers widely used firearms due to fact that criminals became better armed. Nowadays, many agencies start relying mostly on the high-tech and less-lethal weapons. Unlike their ancient counterparts, the modern police officers are provided with more opportunities and options. Injuries while using less-lethal weaponry are possible, but they are minimal due to less traumatic effects of these tools. In 1960-1970ss, police forces widely used non-lethal arms to suppress civil disturbances, riots, and the active public movement against war and nationwide campaigns for civil rights. The concept of employing the non-lethal weapons was widely promoted in the past, but the court’s ruling in Tennessee v. Garner case of 1985 changed the philosophy and encouraged the police officers to use the less-lethal weapons on a daily basis. Various options incorporating the disorientation and distraction help to keep agents at a safe distance, allow them fulfilling their professional duties, and capturing suspects without using deadly weapons.


Non-Lethal Weapons as the Alternative to the Lethal Ones

The main purpose of using non-lethal weapons is to neutralize a criminal, not defeat him/her. The use of this type of arms significantly minimizes damage and harm to one’s health. The police officers’ ability to apply the non-lethal weapons in their professional activity provides numerous opportunities to the developed countries in the new century. The use of this innovative technology has proved their effectiveness in most of the low- level conflicts. In this case, the public support is desirable. However, the non-lethal weapons cannot resolve all criminal issues as each of them requires the careful management and specific approach.

The use of deadly force by the military and police officers towards criminals cannot be justified. Therefore, the development of less-than-lethal weapons was the inevitable event. Experts, police officers, and competent authorities started thinking about alternative options to suppress unruly crowd and defiant individuals. Moreover, new, innovative types of weapons will significantly ease the job of police agents and help them deal with wrongdoers in a proper manner without using the deadly force.  In the wake of recent dramatic events, saving civil lives has become the top priority for law enforcement agents. 

Nowadays, the use of less-lethal weapons has become common, and it is almost impossible to find police officers, who refuse from using them or question their effectiveness. The technological advancements increase the availability of new options and help to make a difference. In the wake of recent dramatic events, police departments have started using gentle tools to stop the dangerous offenders. As a rule, intelligence and law enforcement agencies widely apply mechanical, electrical, sounder, and chemical devices imposing only the retaining, traumatic, and psychophysical effects on the dangerous criminals. They also help the police agents to detain the offenders, deter their resistance, combat riots, violent, and unauthorized protests. Less-lethal weapons are also designed to stop those violators, who resist police authority and laws. The specific non-lethal arms can easily deprive the perpetrators of carrying out their misconduct and avoiding irreversible losses. In the twenty-first century, the U.S. police departments encourage their officers to use the non-lethal arms thereby controlling troubled detainees, who physically resist arrests. Less-lethal weapons are also useful in the case of criminal’s mental illness, alcohol, or drug abuse.

In general, the introduction of safe arms is designed to minimize the number of unintended victims. It is completely impossible to exclude unfavorable cases even without using the deadly force and avoid injuries among police agents and perpetrators. The significant trend in the development of non-lethal weapons is the ability to combine one or several technologies into one single weapon.  Despite effectiveness and safety, the non-lethal weapons can lead to the violator’s death due to the inert handling, ricochets, and random shots. In this case, no one is immune to the dramatic and tragic outcome, particularly if an individual uses an illegal firearm. As the modern means of warfare with enormous destructive force are employed mostly in the large-scale military operations, their frequent use always poses a high risk to civilian lives. Therefore, such circumstances require the competent authorities to develop and effectively apply new innovative weapons that will exclude the adverse effects of employing the traditional firearms. 

Cost Effectiveness

If to compare costs spent on manufacturing lethal arms and non-lethal ones, it is evident that the last ones have more benefits from the economic perspective. In some circumstances, they successfully limit the opposition, obtain public support, and reach policy objectives. Researchers have already incurred costs while examining the effectiveness of some new, innovative technologies. If to compare with expenses spent on various weapon systems, the development, procurement, and application of non-lethal technologies in practice are not costly.

In most cases, they are beneficial. Unfortunately, the restraints of international law and ambiguous status of these tools prevent the law enforcement agents from freely using non-lethals. However, due to the significant potential, these innovative technologies can strengthen diplomacy, make the military more flexible, and provide policymakers and law enforcement agents with new strategic options.

Types of Non-Lethal Weapons

In recent years, the manufacturers have produced effective and innovative lethal weapons thereby enabling the military organizations and law-enforcement agents to work smoothly, easily, and safely. These tools include the electrical incapacitation and explosive distraction devices, kinetic impact munitions, and irritant chemical agents. Flashing strobes and intense bright light have been regularly used in the law enforcement practice to disorient and distract perpetrators for a while. Police officers find this option quite successful. However, from the historical perspective, the agents often referred to this method while searching for the necessary object. The other common option is a chemical agent dispersed in aerosol form. Regardless of a chosen tool, the effects of these devices are similar. The perpetrators feel the irritation, burning, and pain.

The use of a conducted electrical weapon has also become widespread. The device interferes with the communication, impairs motor function, and causes involuntary muscle contractions in individuals. Projectile weapons provide the blunt force round that causes pain, but does not penetrate the skin. Due to various effective tools and devices, as well as other good options, experts encourage investing in the non-lethal technology and scientific advancements. It is often argued that the process of disarming the entire system can cause significant challenges. In most cases, less-lethal tools are widely used for suppressing violent and uncooperative offenders.

Certain Risks Associated With Using Non-Lethal Weapons

The concept of weapons’ less-lethality is ambiguous due to the fact that they have the deadly potential. The strobe light can affect epileptics by causing seizures, fall, and hit. In this case, the significant injuries and death are inevitable. Therefore, risks associated with using non-lethal weapons are considerable despite the tools’ practical effectiveness. The main objective of these tools is to incapacitate, disorient, and distract thereby enabling the police officers to control and capture the offenders causing minor or no injuries at all to the involved parties.

However, experts encourage the public and law enforcement agents not to regard this option as the panacea in all circumstances and resolution of all criminal issues. Police officers have to be prepared to any case and any complicated situation, and the outcome will depend on their efforts, chosen approach, and weighted actions. Everyone should remember that death and unintended injury can occur under any conditions and even the most favorable ones.


In the twenty-first century, the modern society is facing new challenges in regard to the national security. The USA and other developed countries are concerned with the terrorist threat and possible civil uprising, and, therefore, develop new, more effective and credible options and deterrents. The current non-lethal tools are the result of long work and joint efforts of both experts and law enforcement agents. Scientific and technical advanced devices have already proved their effectiveness in police practice.

Officers, who are equipped with non-lethal weapons, should use them carefully and deliberately. Moreover, in many cases, the development of non-lethal tools may enhance the national security. Non-lethal weapons are designed to suppress the protestors and offenders without causing them harm and injury. They include the electrical incapacitation and explosive distraction devices, gas cylinders, stun grenades, traumatic guns, kinetic impact munitions, and irritant chemical agents. Non-lethal weapons are also widely used during the fighting and suppressing the riots.

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