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Everything You Need to Know About Less-lethal Options, Part 2

Funding is currently a nationwide issue with budget cuts. The startup costs of a less-lethal program vary based on the chosen technology. Sustainment costs must always be considered. Sustainment can include maintenance, downloading of data, instructor certifications, recurring training and replacement of munitions and cartridges, etc.

Do not let funding be the sole factor in determining a technology; assess all technologies and determine what is best for the team. Current and future funding sources must be determined, as each SWAT callout will cost money. If 20 40mm CS Barricade Ferret rounds were used during five callouts for the year, that is 100 rounds. At $28 each, that works out to $2,800 without shipping. If sustainment is not considered, technology absent funding becomes unusable. You may also consider phasing in the technology, one launcher at a time or one technology at a time.

Determine the gap in your less-lethal options, justify and select the equipment and related accessories, then pursue the funding. The program may be funded through the current budget (general operating, SWAT budget), the next fiscal year budget, forfeiture or grants. Depending on your agency’s policy, a new and emerging technology and related accessories may be purchased one or more times using forfeiture monies (law enforcement trust funds). The startup, or “roll out,” of a program is easier to justify than updating a current program because new and emerging equates to different.

Consult Other SWAT Teams

When a SWAT team is considering adopting, adding and sustaining a specific less-lethal option/technology, other teams must be consulted. SWAT personnel responsible for less-lethal programs and equipment acquisitions should not bury their heads in the sand and assume they know everything or can do it alone. The key to success is to learn from other agencies’ experiences.

Also, consult professional trade associations such as the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), Florida SWAT Association (FSA), California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO), Texas Tactical Police Officers Association (TTPOA), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA). When a team is approached by a vendor, or you meet with reps at a trade show, don’t pass judgment on or rush into making a purchase. A patrol-based technology may have a SWAT application. Think outside of the box. The technology may be known or unknown, i.e., new and emerging.

Once a determination has been made to pursue a technology, it should be tested, evaluated and researched before it is purchased. This research should include requesting a product demonstration, unit(s) to conduct your own T & E (testing and evaluation), and names of teams who use the product.

When the SWAT teams or agencies are contacted, ask them if the technology is reliable (functions as described). When employed, is it effective? How is the product support (warranty/customer service)? Is the product maintenance intensive? From a cost/benefit standpoint, is the equipment realistically sustainable? Is this technology appropriate for SWAT teams? Is the technology used by SWAT and patrol (cost reduction measure, i.e.,TASER)?

Will the company representatives provide instructor certification programs as part of the initial purchase or provide “train the trainer” courses? Will they come to the agency? Do they have product liability insurance? What (if any) litigation is pending against the product and why?

Their input and experiences are invaluable. If a diverse group of agencies are satisfied with the technology, you should have confidence in the product.

Less-lethal Training

Prior to the adoption of a less-lethal option, the SWAT team must establish agency policy and procedures and confirm that the equipment and program fall within the state guidelines. These must clearly outline the less-lethal program before the technology is fielded. This description includes application, deployment, authorized users, restrictions (if any) and training. This will provide a clear structure for the program and all less-lethal options and technologies falling within the scope of the program, state guidelines and agency policy.

CALEA and other agencies are a good starting point for guidance on establishing a policy. If you are a CALEA agency, it is mandated. Only trained personnel should be authorized to use the technology, and designated personnel (SWAT staff) should be involved in the policy formulation, selection and maintenance of the technology. In addition, the policy and procedures should not exceed the scope of the product limitations of use. Ensure that the policy and procedures mirror the lesson plan.

When a less-lethal option is adopted by SWAT, a specific training program must be established and tailored for the tactical mission. Whether the team selects an ECD or 40mm multi-launcher (chemical agent/specialty impact munitions) the training program must be two-fold: initial training and recurrent training. SWAT has the advantage of training on a regular basis, two to four times a month. With this advantage comes an expectation that we are extremely proficient in weapons handling and qualification—and we should be.

Many states and agencies have a pass/fail criteria for firearm qualifications; most SWAT teams have a 90% to 100% qualification standard. A 37mm/ 40mm multi-launcher is a firearm/ grenade launcher that fires a projectile and must be qualified on a recurring basis. Should we lower our qualification standards because it is a less-lethal weapon? The answer is definitely “no!” This qualification standard must be identified as a SWAT policy.

A thorough lesson plan needs to be created for less-lethal technology. The lesson plan will identify by title what the program is (SWAT Less-Lethal). It will also identify the program designer, lead instructor, additional (qualified) instructors, behavioral objectives (what the operator will learn), materials required for training (40mm rifled launcher, 37mm smoothbore launcher) and references used to establish the training programs. The initial training must cover a myriad of issues for the program to be effective and defended against possible litigation.

The lesson plan/training should address the concept, function and application of the technology and how the tactical operator employs it. It should address what the intent of the technology is, which is to gain compliance, and how it is accomplished: physiological (fluid shock) or psychological (pain compliance). Medical symptoms after deployment and protocols for treatment should be clear. For example, many agencies require that the suspect be medically cleared at a hospital before being booked into jail. The SWAT lesson plan must be consistent with agency policy, however, it would be expanded based on SWAT’s specialized mission.

Lt. Darin D. Dowe, is a 21-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (Fla.), a veteran SWAT operator, former sniper, tactical WMD program coordinator and a SWAT instructor in multiple disciplines. He holds a Bachelor of Public Administration Degree and an Associate of Arts Degree in political science. He can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2009

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