The use of less-lethal weapons is still evolving in the United States, although nearly all larger law enforcement agencies have written policies pertaining to the use of less-lethal force, according to a 2000 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) survey.
"Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics, 2000: Data for Individual State and Local Agencies with 100 or More Officers" revealed that rubber bullets and/or soft projectiles were not among the most popular less-lethal impact devices deployed in the United States, especially by state police agencies. Only seven state law enforcement agencies — Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Missouri — authorize the use of rubber bullets and/or soft projectile-types of less-lethal weapons. By comparison, flash-bang grenades are approved for 21 state police agencies. Only two state police agencies (Alaska and Ohio) authorize the use of conductive energy devices, such as TASERs.
Rubber bullets and soft projectile weapons were somewhat more popular with local law enforcement agencies. Of the 755 local agencies with 100 officers or more responding to the survey, 220 authorize use of either or both types of weapons, lead by California (61), Florida (30) and Texas (11).
Ten states — Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia — plus the District of Columbia, had no respondents reporting use of either rubber bullet or soft projectile devices.
Flash-bang grenades were far more popular among police, with 425 local agencies authorizing use. Electrical devices were authorized for use by 135 of the respondents.
Interest in less-lethal weapons began to grow as a viable alternative to deadly force for police following the 1985 Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, which held that the use of deadly force to apprehend apparently unarmed, nonviolent fleeing felons was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
Then Attorney General Edwin Meese called a conference to address the need for alternatives to deadly force. Later the NIJ established a less-lethal technologies program. Through this program, the NIJ seeks technologies that provide new or significantly improved less-lethal options to law enforcement and corrections professionals to enable them to reduce the number of deaths and injuries to suspects.
Douglas Page (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes about science, technology and medicine from Pine Mountain, California.