A previous column (“Can Something Be Too Good?”, December 2013) prompted a lot of e-mails, most of which were in agreement with my opinion. My concern was that the amount of equipment carried by officers, particularly if carried in external vest carriers, could make it difficult and time-consuming (if not altogether impossible) to draw the duty sidearm with the off-hand if their dominant hand was disabled.
Another chief asked an even more basic question: What affect (if any) would eliminating some of the less-lethal equipment currently carried by most officers have, and would it create liability issues? Does an officer really need a baton and a chemical agent and an ECD as less-lethal options to a sidearm or patrol rifle?
I don’t think there’s any question the more items officers are required to carry; the more cumbersome it is to access any individual item — especially under stressful conditions. Reducing the amount of equipment will help solve the dilemma discussed previously and the weight officers must lug around. Even more importantly, fewer weapon choices may facilitate timely decision-making, and thus, potentially save the life of an officer or innocent person.
In today’s policing environment I don’t think it’s reasonable not to have a less-lethal option available on an officer’s gun belt for use when such deployment is appropriate. But some agencies seem to subscribe to the theory: “if one’s good, more’s better.” I’m not so sure about that. In some use of force situations, a transition must be made from less lethal to deadly force if it’s justified. If it isn’t then naturally having multiple less-lethal options may prove advantageous. But there are times when none of the less lethal devices are effective on a given person. In such cases we can only hope there are enough officers present to simply overpower the suspect and get him in restraints.
The decision of how many of these devices to carry is best left to each department — better yet, the individual officers — with the requirement at least one device of their choice be carried. Officers may elect to carry multiple devices, but there are caveats. Proficiency must be demonstrated and maintained with each device and they must understand there isn’t a requirement to try every less-lethal option before transitioning to deadly force if warranted. Carrying multiple less-lethal options should not result in a potentially deadly delay (either in decision making or physical access) in transitioning.
Here’s A Thought
I know of a police agency that very sensibly addressed their concerns about their officers being required to carry too much stuff. The agency’s legal advisor opined that downsizing from three required less-lethal devices to one would not adversely impact liability if the argument could be made that the chosen device was generally effective. It’s been proven that no single less-lethal tool is always effective. The attorney also speculated that if given a choice of tools, not every officer would choose the same one. Thus, at an incident in which multiple officers are involved, there’s a likelihood more than one less-lethal option would be present — not all three carried by each individual officer. It’s something to consider.
Where I work we have severe winters with sub-freezing temperatures likely six months out of the year. Our agency allows officers to select which device(s) they wish to carry. Several officers opt for an ECD during the warmer months when people aren’t wearing multiple layers of heavy clothing, which will likely render the ECD ineffective. During winter months, most carry OC spray and a collapsible baton. This approach makes sense to me.
A lot of what we do and much of the equipment we use in this business are reasonable compromises. There are no guarantees in life and that extends to the effectiveness of any particular type of less-lethal device. Every officer should carry one device with which he’s proficient; this will prevent the decision-making process from being so cumbersome it becomes dangerous. What do you think?
By Jerry Boyd
Questions, comments and suggestions can be sent to Jerry at [email protected]