Po­lice con­sider less-lethal weapons af­ter shoot­ings


Po­lice in more than 20 North Amer­i­can cities are test­ing the latest in less-lethal al­ter­na­tives to bul­lets — “blunt im­pact pro­jec­tiles” that cause sus­pects ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain but stop short of killing them. Or at least that’s the goal.

Po­lice have long had what they con­sid­ered “non-lethal” weapons at their dis­posal, in­clud­ing pep­per spray, stun guns and bean bag pro­jec­tiles. But even those weapons have caused deaths, lead­ing to a search for “less lethal” al­ter­na­tives. The quest has taken on new ur­gency in the past year amid furor over a string of high-pro­file po­lice shoot­ings of black men.

Mi­cron Prod­ucts Inc., based in Fitch­burg, makes the new am- mu­ni­tion, which are much larger than rub­ber bul­lets and have sil­i­cone heads that ex­pand and flat­ten on im­pact, en­hanc­ing the pain and in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing a sus­pect. One ex­ec­u­tive of the com­pany that patented the tech­nol­ogy was a guinea pig and de­scribed ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the busi­ness end of a BIP as the “equiv­a­lent of be­ing hit by a hockey puck.”

“It was like, ‘Ow!’ I had to shake it off,” said Allen Ezer, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Se­cu­rity De­vices In­ter­na­tional, a de­fense tech­nol­ogy com­pany that hired Mi­cron to make the pro­jec­tiles, which were de­vel­oped by a bal­lis­tics en­gi­neer­ing com­pany in Is­rael.

Six­teen law en­force­ment agen­cies in the U.S. and six in Canada have pur­chased the pro­jec­tiles, in­clud­ing SWAT units of the Los An­ge­les County and Sacra­mento County Sher­iff’s De­part­ments in Cal­i­for­nia, and po­lice de­part­ments in East Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

“They want an op­tion that bridges the gap be­tween ba­ton, Taser and their ser­vice weapons,” said Sal­va­tore Emma, Mi­cron’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

The pro­jec­tiles do not pen­e­trate the skin, like con­ven­tional bul­lets, but they do cause pain and dis­com­fort. Of­fi­cers are trained to shoot the pro­jec­tiles at arms and legs. A per­son hit in the torso at close range dur­ing a dis­tur­bance in Canada got a large bruise but no last­ing in­jury, said Gre­gory Sul­li­van, SDI’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

No one has been shot in the head with the pro­jec­tiles at this point, and Sul­li­van ac­knowl­edged the pos­si­bil­ity of a se­ri­ous or deadly in­jury in the event of a close-range shot to the head.

But “be­cause of the ac­count­abil­ity fac­tor that ex­ists to­day in the law en­force­ment field ... it just makes good sense and good risk man­age­ment to use some­thing that’s safer and the of­fi­cers can have con­fi­dence in,” said Sul­li­van, a for­mer Toronto po­lice of­fi­cer.

The prod­uct has its lim­its. While it could sub­due an armed sus­pect from a dis­tance in a hostage or stand­off sit­u­a­tion, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t be use­ful dur­ing sud­den con­fronta­tions, said Toby Wishard, sher­iff in Cod­ing­ton County, South Dakota, whose depart­ment bought the pro­jec­tiles sev­eral months ago but hasn’t used them yet.

Crit­ics ar­gue the al­ter­na­tives are merely a stop­gap to a much big­ger prob­lem.

“I’m for less mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the po­lice, but the main prob­lem and the main de­ter­rent for these dif­fer­ent in­ci­dents of po­lice vi­o­lence is hold­ing the po­lice ac­count­able,” said Brock Satter, an or­ga­nizer for Bos­ton-based Mass Ac­tion Against Po­lice Bru­tal­ity.

“I don’t think most of these sit­u­a­tions are ac­ci­dents. These are in­ci­dents of abuse of power and racism,” he said. “To me, that’s not a prob­lem you can solve just by us­ing a dif­fer­ent weapon.”


In this July 30 photo, Sal­va­tore Emma Jr., pres­i­dent and CEO of Mi­cron Prod­ucts, dis­plays Blunt Im­pact Pro­jec­tiles, one ready for use, left, and another af­ter be­ing fired dur­ing a test at the fac­tory in Fitch­burg, Mas­sachusetts.

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