3 reasons officers need more less-lethal options
Interactions with suspects can go from calm to violent within seconds, and officers need multiple tools to respond to varying levels of non-compliance
Sponsored by Reflex Protect Tactical
By Police1 BrandFocus Staff
Police use of force may be under greater scrutiny than ever before. While many officers undergo rigorous training, the best tool for the job is not always at hand when it comes to the situations they face on the street.
Matt Schaefer, president of Tactical Defense Training, is a 25-year police veteran and has served the past 20-plus years as a certified instructor in defensive tactics, use of force, less-lethal and chemical munitions and more. He says officers need both more training and more options when it comes to force, especially more less-lethal tools. Here are three reasons why:
1. CONFRONTATIONS DON’T NECESSARILY UNFOLD IN A LINEAR WAY
In the early 2000s, the conversation centered on a “use of force continuum,” but that idea has evolved.
“I think everyone realizes fights are dynamic and they go from zero to 60 at any point in time,” said Schaefer.
Where the conversation about use of force really should begin, he says, is when the officer begins interacting with someone for whatever reason. The level of compliance and potential for violence an officer may face in any given encounter don’t always follow a linear path – so thinking of de-escalation as a linear process often doesn’t work in an environment where things can change from calm to confrontational rapidly and without notice.
“When it comes to de-escalation, that term means a lot of things to a lot of different groups,” said Schaefer, “but the reality of it is, sometimes in police work you just can’t de-escalate someone when you arrive on scene. If a guy is naked and wielding a machete, and he’s threatening serious physical harm to others or the officers, you’re probably not going to talk to this individual.”
The idea that an officer is going to wrestle with a knife-wielding individual and put themselves at risk of severe injury is also just not realistic, he adds.
2. DE-ESCALATION REQUIRES TIME PLUS COOPERATION FROM THE SUBJECT
Any officer knows that once a subject starts exhibiting hostile body language, efforts to “try to talk through it” will be much more difficult, if not impossible – and that things can go sideways in a heartbeat.
“The downside with de-escalation is it requires time, for one,” said Schaefer, “but more importantly, it requires some level of compliance from the suspect. If they decide they’re going to turn and run, or if they decide to turn and fight, there’s not a whole lot of complying going on there.”
For decades, cops have worked with the idea of the “21-foot rule“ – the idea that a person running with a knife or other edged weapon in hand can cover a distance of seven yards in less than two seconds – the time it takes the “average” officer to draw a sidearm and place two hits center-mass on a man-size target 21 feet away.
But Schafer says 30 feet would be a more accurate rule of thumb – and most less-lethal tools and techniques require much closer proximity, which gives officers only milliseconds to respond.
“The reality of that is, 21 feet is not enough for most officers, especially when you have somebody coming after an individual,” said Schaefer. “Typically, the distance gets closed and the subject is on top of them before they can respond.”
3. OFFICERS HAVE ONLY A FEW LESS-LETHAL OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM
When verbal commands aren’t cutting it, officers can try empty-hand control techniques. But once an officer goes hands on, that is usually when the fight starts with many suspects, and the risk of officer injury or injuries to suspects escalate. Tools like OC/pepper spray or conducted energy weapons allow officers to gain control of a suspect without having to go hands on immediately. Different jurisdictions rank these tools differently, according to community attitudes, local regulations and case law.
For example, after the Cleveland consent decree in 2014, that agency ranked the TASER as a higher level of force, similar to baton strikes, and a lot of agencies started following suit, says Schaefer. Some agencies have even reduced or eliminated their use of OC/pepper spray due to public complaints, he adds.
“Taking that option from officers creates a big void,” said Schaefer. “And for the officers that aren’t carrying some of those tools, you’re essentially asking someone to go from verbal commands to hands on and strikes to lethal, so it’s really created a vacuum as far as less-lethal options.”
HOW PRESIDIA GEL FILLS THE GAP
A new product is poised to fill the less-lethal void, however. Schaefer and Tactical Defense Training work closely with Reflex Protect, whose Presidia Gel, a non-aerosol sticky CS formula, can be safely deployed inside a sensitive environment without contamination, and its fast-acting antidote, Reflex Remove, reverses the effects within five minutes. The gel formula doesn’t atomize or cross-contaminate, enabling target-specific application, and the antidote enables a faster return to normal for the suspect as well as the officer.
“If I spray somebody with pepper spray, there’s a lot of cross-contamination. There is not an officer working that has not been cross-contaminated while making an arrest when OC has been used. Some officers hate using OC because while it is effective, it gets everywhere and on everyone, and a lot of times now the officer is tied up at the hospital getting the suspect decontaminated,” said Schaefer. “Whereas with Presidia Gel, it only affects what it makes contact with. Once the suspect’s cooperative, the officer can decon them right there on the spot.”
Presidia Gel works faster than OC, does not cross-contaminate and can be completely decontaminated in minutes, returning the suspect to normal. All the arguments that pepper/OC spray is punitive because it takes up to an hour to decontaminate, even after the suspect is cooperative, simply do not apply with Presidia Gel, says Schaefer.
This ends the encounter faster, enables relief to the suspect sooner and allows officers to get back on the street quicker, he adds, so it improves officer safety as well as safety for the suspects.
“We have fewer officer injuries or suspect injuries, and typically a peaceful outcome for everybody,” said Schaefer. “It’s a great product. It’s something that I could see replacing pepper spray on law enforcement duty belts. It has all the advantages of pepper spray with none of the negative aspects.”
He says it also makes training faster and easier. Where decontamination from OC could take an hour or more per person, Presidia Gel and Reflex Remove allow more time to focus on the training itself.
“With this, I’ve literally had an entire group of 30 students get exposed, get deconned and everybody’s back to normal in about 15 minutes instead of wasting half the day doing it,” said Schaefer. “So from a training standpoint, we’re able to speed up a lot of that hands-on portion of it because recovery is so quick.”
This is no small benefit when time is money. Using more of the available time for learning instead of recovery means officers can focus more on understanding use of force, less-lethal options, case law and more.
“The big takeaway is, this allows officers to use force faster, to end an encounter safer, and then they can decon the suspect within minutes,” said Schaefer.
This makes Presidia Gel a better alternative to pepper/OC spray, and something that represents less impact and thus a lower level of force, he adds.
“There are no long-lasting effects for anybody involved,” said Schaefer. “The whole thing is over in a matter of minutes, and the individual is back to normal.”
Visit Reflex Protect Tactical for more information.