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Non-Lethal Weapons: The Potential and the Pitfalls

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 6 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1990) Pages: 1-7
G Geis; A Binder
Date Published
7 pages
The use of nonlethal weapons by the police could significantly reduce the number of episodes involving deadly force.
Killing a human being, whether the person is guilty or innocent, often causes a heavy psychological burden for police officers. Nonlethal weapons offer an opportunity to save life and to avoid the uncomfortable and sometimes devastating consequences that can accompany police shootings. However, there seems to be a reasonable fear among police officers that they will be saddled with technological devices that will further inhibit their reliance on guns for self-protection. The ideal kind of nonlethal weapon would presumably employ an agent, such as a chemical, to produce a numbing or other disabling effect. The effect would have to be instantaneous if the officer is in immediate danger. Agents such as tear gas, used in dangerous situations, could lead to random weapon firing and an even more serious threat than nonaction. The best agent would be one that is absorbed immediately into the body through the skin, although these projectiles would have to penetrate clothing yet not be as dangerous as bullets. A fundamental problem regarding nonlethal weapons is that it is impossible for the average police officer to have on hand an entire arsenal of equipment and then to weigh a situation and select the most appropriate time for weapon use. 8 references. (Author abstract modified)