Every time a police officer makes the decision to use deadly force, people are left questioning whether or not it was necessary. It's hard to second guess someone who was on the scene and felt themselves in danger, but the use of deadly force is always controversial. In the most recent case in Tallahassee, the family of the victim argued not only that the use of lethal force was unnecessary, but racially motivated. This was the case even though it was a member of the family who was being attacked by the man shot.
Nationally recognized experts in the field of the use of deadly force, such as Geoff Alpert, maintain that 25% of police shootings might be avoided with proper equipment and training. The controversy caused by these shootings, as well as expensive lawsuits have prompted more and more police forces to turn to an expanding pool of less lethal, but incapacitating weapons.
These weapons include:
The use of these weapons is not free of controversy and not without danger to the target, which is one of the reasons the Tallahassee Police Department has not adopted any of these less lethan weapons except the use of pepper spray for line officers. As James Fairfield, Lead Trainer of Defensive Tactics and the use of Force for TPD explains, the reason these weapons are called "less lethal" is because each carries an inherent danger of causing bodily harm. Most of these weapons are launched from a statutory firearm, and therefore have the potential to cause serious injury and even death in some circumstances.
Every uniformed officer at TPD carries pepper spray, but only the Riot Control unit has been trained in and uses the bean bags. And, they are intended to be used only to protect advancing officers who carry conventional weapons.
Officer Fairfield acknowledges that if a weapon were developed that could incapacitate a suspect without risking serious bodily harm, law enforcement is "...almost negligent if you don't try and provide it." But, for now, such weapons don't exist.
Some police departments, however, have adopted the bean bags for line officers (Fremont, and Buena Park, Caliornia for instance) reasoning that even though these weapons are not perfect, they at least give police options between physical muscle and lethal force.
Even though these weapons may well save lives in confrontations with the police, they are all after-the-fact remedies. In the most recent police shooting in Tallahassee, for example, the man had already attacked his niece when police arrived, and the police had been called to the house on domestic violence calls 20 times before.
Carl Baker, Deputy Secretary of Public Safety in Virginia, interviewed by USA today remarked: "You're going to see more technology available to police in the next ten years than has ever been available in the history of policing." And, some of this technology is a lot more frightening in terms of invasions of individual privacy than those mentioned above.
But, in the final analysis, the crime problem is not going to be solved by technology or weapons. It will only be solved with preventative measures. One has to question a situation in which the police responded twenty times to domestic violence calls at the house where this incident took place and there was no effective agency intervention or coordination to prevent the subsequent events that led to the police shooting.
A conservative estimate is that it costs the taxpayers $350.00 for every domestic violence arrest. So, why after two or three calls didn't some agency intervene to find out what was going on in that family. The question I'm left with is: What could have happened in this situation that might have prevented another instance of domestic violence and the use of deadly force.
Dr. Johns is an Associate Professor at FAMU, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Law and Society at Florida State University. Her commentaries can be heard on WFSU's Morning Edition. She can be reached at Lylajean@prodigy.net.