Effects of Less-Lethal Weapons on Injuries in Police Use-of Force Events

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Police use of force describes the amount of force an officer has to use in order to get an unwilling suspect to comply with his/her orders. Lethal force has resulted in serious injuries of the police, citizens or both. The option to use less lethal weapons such as conducted energy devices (CEDs) like Tasers or oleoresin capsicum (OC), also known as pepper spray has been suggested based on studies and research. It is believed these less lethal weapons will reduce the number of injuries to police and citizens. Research was conducted to see if less-lethal weapons would cause less injury, but still act as an effective method in controlling resistant suspects.

The purpose of this study was to test this belief or hypothesis that less lethal weapons will indeed reduce the amount of injuries to police and citizens in use-of force events. Although it seems as if less lethal weapons would be less harmful in use of force situations, other factors must be considered such as pre-existing health conditions and drug related factors. If an individual who suffers from asthma was to inhale the harmful toxins released in OC or pepper spray, he or she could become severely ill or possible even die. A review of police and medical records of suspects exposed to a CED shock during a 2-year period found that less than 1% received moderate injuries, and only 1 suspect (0.1%) received severe injuries ( Kaminski, MacDonald, Smith 2009). Even though death is an unlikely result when using less-lethal weapons, it is still very possible.

Twelve police departments were involved in the study. They all provided records on more than 24,380 police use-of-force incidents for which injuries to suspects and

officers were documented. About sixty-two percent...

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...er the influence or not were not included in the records collected by the police departments. Therefore, the study does not account for all important factors of the case. Whether the injury to a suspect was merely the result of a skin puncture caused by a CED or skin irritation from OC spray could not be fully determined. They were then coded as non-injuries. Had all these factors been identified in the cases, the observed reductions in injury rates might have been greater. With a few limitations to the findings, there could be more thorough research in future studies. Certain variables need to be adjusted in a subsequent analysis.

Work Cited

MacDonald, J. M., Kaminski, R. J., & Smith, M. R. (2009). The effect of less-lethal weapons on injuries in police use-of-force. Am J Public Health, 99(12), 2268-2274. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.159616

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