Perhaps now, more than ever there is an expectation that Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) will only use deadly force as an absolute necessity. Time and again we see LEOs tried in the media with regards to a deadly force incident. I am not here to debate the validity of deadly force situations, instead I would like to talk about technology meeting the expectation of capturing suspects alive. There was a time not so long ago where an LEO could shoot a fleeing felon, and that use of deadly force would be considered justified. Since that era of policing two major determinations were made in the Courts.

Tennessee v. Garner: “Under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others” (1985).

Graham v. Connor: “The Court determined that an objective reasonableness standard should apply to a civilian’s claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of his person” (1989).

So Tennessee v. Garner ensured that a suspect would not be shot while fleeing, and Graham v. Connor boils down to using the necessary amount of force which is “reasonable” while making an arrest. So how can an LEO, reasonably arrest a suspect where deadly force isn’t a viable option? Enter the less than lethal tools. There are many less lethal tools, but what follows is my list of the top 5 less than lethal tools. I took into consideration: cost, easy-of-use, effectiveness, damage caused, and practicalness.

TOP 5 Less Lethal Tools

OC Spray (oleoresin capsicum) aka Pepper spray:

Depending on your delivery system this product can be effective from a few feet to 100 feet away (deployed from a launcher). OC uses a chemical compound that irritates the eyes causing pain, blurred vision, tears, and a reduced ability to fight. Having experienced it first hand I can tell you it is not pleasant. (Video courtesy of MilitaryNotes YouTube channel).

Collapsible Baton:

Virtually every LEO in the United States carries a collapsible baton. They are easy to carry, quick to deploy, and when used properly inflict a lot of pain. Where I work you have the option of a 16”, 24”, aluminum, or steel baton. The severity of the crime, or the violence of the suspect would need to be elevated (higher than OC) in order to justify its use. (Video courtesy of CopsPlus Inc. Youtube channel).


I am going to lump a lot of similar products under this one heading. Point of contact tasers, cartridges tasers (the ones you see on TV that shoot darts with wires attached), and the independent shotgun round taser. Each of these are extremely effective at incapacitating a suspect. Typically they can be used at medium distances, and they greatly reduce the risk of injury to the LEO. However, using a taser on a suspect will almost always result in an injury to the suspect, and an LEO should take this into consideration when determining reasonableness. (Video courtesy of Discovery TV YouTube channel).

Blunt Force Projectiles:

This category is where I place the bean-bag round, the BIP (Ballistic Impact Projectile) round, and other similar products. Using a bean-bag round will transform lethal shotgun into a less than lethal tool. It has good standoff (keeping a safe distance), and can help defuse a bad situation. The BIP round is fired from a 40mm launcher and works in a similar fashion to the bean-bag round, delivering direct blunt force to a suspect. (Video courtesy of Security Devices International (SDI) YouTube channel).

Grenade Sting/Flash:

Rounding off my top five is the sting, and flash grenade. The sting grenade is a full of tiny rubber balls that disperse under great force causing a lot of pain. The flash grenade is used to disorient a suspect (used in almost every movie ever made). Typically, you use a flash grenade before you breach a room to try to confuse the suspect and reduce the risk of being shot upon entry. (Video courtesy of Fire And Police Videos YouTube channel).

I can only image what the future holds for less than lethal tools. If I had to guess I would say there will be more robotic delivery systems (robots). This will continue to reduce the risk to the LEO. Let me know if you any questions about the tools I listed, or any that I haven’t. 

(Featured image courtesy of