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Everything You Need to Know About Less-lethal Options, Part 3

SWAT utilizes many technologies to accomplish their missions under very diverse circumstances, technologies that are not mainstream to patrol. An example of this would be munitions fired from 12-gauge shotguns, 37mm and 40mm single round and multi-round launchers. Team command should be cautious if they are using weapons that can fire a variety of, or a combination of, both lethal and less-lethal rounds. The risk is the possibility that the wrong round can be inadvertently loaded into the weapon.

Protocol must be established to ensure that less-lethal munitions are loaded when less-lethal munitions are needed. You do not want a 40mm CS Ferret round loaded when 40mm less-lethal munitions are needed, or a 12-gauge CS Ferret round loaded when a 12-gauge less-lethal round is needed.

The safest way to ensure this does not happen in the tactical arena is to dedicate and/or clearly identify weapons for each role. If a 12-gauge shotgun is being utilized in a less-lethal role, add a high visibility orange forend, and stock and store only less-lethal munitions with it. If you have more than one multi-launcher, dedicate launchers for each role. With my team, if the team responds in support of our Mobile Field Force (Riot Squad) and we need to expand our less-lethal capability, we can do so by using less-lethal rounds for the 40mm delivery system.

Position in Stack

When a SWAT team adopts a specific less-lethal technology, specific SWAT tactics must be taught to ensure integration of the technology. Where will the less-lethal munitions operator be in the stack? The first position with the bunker? No. The second position, i.e., the lethal cover? No. Instead, the less-lethal operator should be the third or fourth position. This must be a part of training and part of the protocol for operations.

All of my team’s operators are issued TASERs, which provide the less-lethal operators with a backup if the primary less-lethal technology were to fail or if follow-up use of force were required. This equals redundancy. Other tactical considerations are 1) the distance to suspects, 2) their ability to recover or flee before you get to them, and 3) specific impact areas as shot placement of less-lethal munitions.

The fact that a less-lethal option exists does not obligate a SWAT operator to use intermediate force when deadly force is justified. Just because a SWAT operator has the ability to employ a less-lethal technology, such as a TASER or 40mm specialty impact munitions, it does not negate the need for lethal force cover. During a SWAT tactical operation, lethal force cover will always be present and will be used if the situation dictates.

The collection of intelligence during an incident is ongoing and changing, and we must be ready. A less-lethal encounter can immediately change to a deadly force encounter. If a suspect is armed with a knife and barricaded in his residence, this situation has four likely outcomes: surrender, use of less-lethal force, use of deadly force, or escape. We all endeavor and hope for a surrender.

If the suspect fails to surrender or is not dislodged by the chemical agent, an entry team will eventually be utilized to apprehend him. If the suspect is in the structure and, when encountered, found to be armed with a knife, it is probable that less-lethal technology will be utilized. The suspect can be apprehended using sound tactics without further incident or the use of deadly force.

If we rush in and force a confrontation, our actions will be immediately questioned. We will be asked, lacking an exigency, why didn’t we negotiate? Did we negotiate long enough? There is no rule of thumb when it comes to time. It is case by case. Did we introduce chemical agents and/or try alternate tactics? Alternative tactics can be employed during a barricade incident. Using a 37mm/40mm launcher to break a window and “shake things up” is a tactic that has been proven to stimulate the suspect that is barricaded.

When a suspect who was unresponsive responds, intelligence is gathered as to his or her whereabouts in the structure and may result in surrender. Negotiators advise the suspect to exit and no more munitions will be fired. This tactic can also be used to port windows, disable CCTV and knock out blinds. You may also be precluded from launching chemical agents due to the proximity of the incident site to a school, nursing home or hospital, and may need to employ tactics immediately while an evacuation is occurring, if it is possible.

We must not force a lone suspect to commit “suicide by cop.” There is no prescribed amount of time to negotiate and no specific amount of volleys of CS that need to be introduced, but each situation will be evaluated individually. If Plan A is to deploy chemical agents, dislodge the suspect, and arrest him or her in the front yard, we must be ready in case the suspect emerges with a knife and the TASER or kinetic energy round is ineffective, i.e., the suspect doesn’t submit to impact pain. Plan B may be to follow-up with the same or a secondary less-lethal option.

Plan B in no way infers that deadly force is prohibited under these circumstances. If the suspect is advancing and serious bodily injury or death is imminent, deadly force can be utilized. If our Plan A is to use less-lethal options and a bunker and Plan B does not include lethal force cover, you have failed to plan!

We do not employ less-lethal technologies when a firearm is being discharged or is pointed at us or the public. Under certain circumstances, such as when the suspect is in possession of a firearm that he is not aggressively using (pointing at the ground) but instead may be using with the intent to commit “suicide by cop,” a less-lethal option may be considered.

Officers must have cover (structure/vehicle), ballistic protection (bunker, APC), a lethal force operator focused on the threat, and a plan to decisively react to deadly force by the subject/suspect. Only then can the less-lethal option be considered. To protect the officers and public, deadly force must be met with deadly force. However, if the situation can be safely resolved using alternative technology and tactics, then it should be considered. Tactics and the application of force are guided by procedures, policy and law, but are ultimately based on the officer’s perception of the incident.

We must be cautioned that several subjects/suspects have committed suicide or been shot to death by police after being struck by less-lethal munitions. In these instances, the intent was clearly to save the person’s life, but the end result was tragedy. Your plan and tactics will be questioned. You need to be prepared to articulate why you responded as you did and you will have to justify your plan.
During SWAT incidents, command must establish control, clearly document, and be able to articulate the actions taken and tactics used by the team from start to finish. Basic tactical considerations are the team’s presence at the scene; scene integrity (inner perimeter/containment team); negotiations; escalation of force (if applicable), usually starting with introduction of chemical agents to dislodge the suspect; and outcome (apprehension).

The apprehension is a result of the tactical plan or the suspect’s decision notwithstanding outside (SWAT) factors. We must be prepared as a team and have options. For example, intelligence indicates the suspect is armed with a handgun. The suspect emerges from the house without a firearm and with hands visible, sees the containment team, and decides to run back into the structure. The problem has now been compounded because you have failed to plan for that event.

A specialty impact munitions or TASER deployment by the containment/arrest team may have gained immediate compliance, thereby ending the incident. Another example to consider would be when there is a suspect in an open-air environment (parking lot, front yard) who is negotiated into abandoning or spontaneously abandons a firearm. Less-lethal options would immediately be employed to gain compliance and ensure or deter the suspect from rearming himself.

An important aspect of tactics is ensuring that the team is safe when they leave cover to secure the suspect in handcuffs and remove him from the scene. Lethal cover, less lethal and a contact operator will address the suspect, while the remainder of the containment/arrest team provides cover (structure/unsecure area) for those that are dealing with the suspect. SWAT teams have the advantage of receiving hundreds of hours in tactical training yearly. In addition to tactical training, visualization is an excellent technique that should be encouraged. Visualization is simply the “what if,” “what should I do if “X” happens?”

Tactics are meant to work to our advantage and maximize our safety; many unfortunate events have occurred as a result of poor tactics. Teams must emphasize that improper tactics can result in injury or death to the officer or suspect/subject. A recent tragedy involving the use of a TASER resulted in the suspect falling to his death from an elevated platform. The TASER usage was appropriate based on the threat, but the tactical implementation was not. Most impact munitions cannot be deployed at less than five feet. As with all equipment, the technical specifications should be known to the operators.

Lieutenant Darin D. Dowe is a 21-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, FL, a veteran SWAT Operator, former Sniper, Tactical WMD Program Coordinator and a SWAT Instructor in multiple disciplines. Dowe also has a background in Homeland Security, investigations and patrol. He can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2009

Rating : 7.8

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