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Non-deadly option added to ECPD

April 02, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

Their bright orange color may give them the appearance of toy guns, but the ammunition these weapons fire isn't a game.

The El Centro Police Department has recently implemented less than lethal ammunition, not as a replacement for traditional rounds, but as another, non-deadly option to ensure public and officer safety.

During a recent less than lethal training session, ECPD Lt. Paul Longoria explained the weapons are used when officers have the legal basis to use force but an alternative would better protect both the suspect and officers.

"Hopefully, it will incapacitate the suspect" and disorient him or her long enough for an officer to make an arrest, Longoria said.

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Sometimes referred to as bean bags, the rounds are small, fabric-wrapped sacks of shot that, upon impact, do not penetrate the surface they hit. Instead, the bag conforms to the surface, spreading the blow over a broader area.

ECPD uses bright orange casings on its less than lethal designated guns so as to avoid mistakenly putting regular rounds in the weapons.

The physical sensation of being hit has been described by one manufacturer as similar to being hit with a line drive in baseball or by a professional boxer's punch (approximately).

It causes a physical and psychological effect on subjects that will, ideally, allow enough time for officers to restrain him or her, Sgt. Mike Crankshaw said.

One example of a situation in which less than lethal weapons would be used is when a suspect refuses to comply with officer commands and talking to him or her doesn't work, Crankshaw said.

The weapons will be used in controlled situations, usually involving single subjects, Crankshaw said.

"It allows distance (between officers and subjects)," Crankshaw said, thus cutting the likelihood of further injury to either.

One manufacturer, Mk Ballistic Systems, boasts on its website: "Agencies that have a less than lethal program have a greatly reduced risk of litigation" from instances where courts determine inappropriate deadly force was used.

The Website also lists several of its customers, including federal agencies and police departments in San Diego, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

ECPD, which has trained all its supervisors, emergency response team members and most senior officers in using the weapons, expects the rounds to be implemented into the department within 30 days, Longoria said.

"We consider them another tool in the protection of individuals," Longoria said.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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