Technology Is Your Friend

Technology is a funny thing. Just when you think you've got a handle on it, someone comes up with a new idea, or an interesting twist on an old one, and you think to yourself, "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

As you might expect, I get the chance to look over a lot of new gear in my role as a "technology writer." Some of it is very cool, and I can immediately see a need for it, and wish that it was around when I really needed it. Some of it is clearly a solution in search of a problem. By that, I mean that someone had the inkling of an idea about a problem, or perceived problem, and a great (to them) idea for a new product. They developed the product, and then made it fit the problem they thought they had identified. Then the sales and marketing kicked into high gear.

Law enforcement has seen this particular phenomenon before, and pretty frequently. For example, back in the 1980s it was clear that officers needed more non-lethal options when dealing with resistant subjects. A CN based spray, often referred to as "mace" had been around for awhile, but had proven relatively ineffective for use during arrest scenarios. The development of oleoresin capsicum (OC) based products--pepper spray--was a great idea, and fulfilled a need that was clear.

However, then the onslaught began. Soon there were dozens of companies marketing a wide variety of spray weapons. Some products varied in the percentage of active ingredients (1%, 1.5%, 3%, 5%, 5.5%, 6%, and 10%), while others began mixing different active ingredients (CS/OC, CN/OC), and still others combined the two concepts into "blend" products with varying degrees of active ingredients. And we won't even get into that whole business about the SHU (Scoville Heat Units, or "hotness") ratings of the different products.

Almost overnight, it seemed, law enforcement was inundated with such a wide selection of products, "backed up" by such a variety of claims as to effectiveness, it became almost impossible to make an informed decision as to which product to buy. Clearly, the market had responded to the marketplace, but in doing so, the manufacturers, distributors and vendors had created a situation that had a serious potential to confuse and misinform.

The intervening years have seen law enforcement grow and mature as a marketplace, refining our understanding of our needs, and developing a much more highly tuned--for want of a better phrase--"BS Detector." In short, we have become much more sophisticated regarding our needs, and our selection of solutions.

This is not to suggest that competition is a bad thing. On the contrary, competition is what drives us forward--what makes us better. The best product in the world can always be improved, but without a competitor pushing, why would it be? We've all had the experience of picking up a thing, and saying to ourselves, ", that's great. If only it also had [this], or [that], it would be perfect!" Then, once enough people have said that, a competitor comes along and improves the thing by adding [this], or [that], and the cycle begins anew. As long as the improvements are driven by what officers really need and want, it's a good thing.

The reason I'm being so philosophical here is that I recently had the pleasure of attending the IACP conference and vendor show, in Boston. While looking around the thousands of booths in the exhibition area, I was struck by how significant the law enforcement market had become, and by how the marketers had responded. I saw many examples of the aforementioned excess, and I saw many newly developed and refined products that officers can really use to keep themselves and the citizens they serve safer. Here are two examples.

Good Idea Number One

LaserMax® has produced firearms laser sighting systems for years, and many officers like their products because they are inserted into a handgun as a replacement for the recoil spring guide, thereby negating the need for a new holster design. However, LaserMax's type of laser sighting device has been limited to pistols for one very simple reason: Revolvers don't have recoil spring guides.

LaserMax has now produced a laser sight that can be fitted to a J-frame revolver. While many officers have switched to pistols for their duty weapon, many still carry and use the 5-shot J-frame revolver as their off-duty or back-up gun.

This is a brilliant idea, and the implementation of it is excellent. The laser sight sits atop a plate attached to the right side grip panel of the weapon. The laser sight is high, right next to the hammer of the weapon, so the beam is projected above the cylinder. This accomplishes two things: first, it gets the laser up and out of the way of the shooter's trigger finger when it is placed along the frame of the weapon, outside the trigger guard, a position that many firearms instructors are teaching (other similar products keep the laser emitter down low, so that the beam is projected below the cylinder, thus interfering with this finger position). Secondly, it significantly reduces the potential for parallax, the effect that occurs when the axis of the weapon's bore is different than the axis of the laser beam (this reduced parallax is one of the strengths of the older, recoil spring guide design).

Because the J-frame revolver is an off-duty and back-up design, its use will typically be limited to a close-in gun fight, with limited time for target acquisition. In effect, officers will often have to "punch" the weapon out at the target and fire, with little time to acquire the sights. The laser sight should truly help in these types of situations.

Why didn't I think of that?

Good Idea Number Two

Over half of the departments in the country now carry TASER® weapons. They have been around long enough to build up an impressive record of keeping officers, suspects and citizens safer in use of force situations. The design of the TASER is excellent, but there are a few little things that could be improved.

TASER has pretty much had a monopoly on the market for years, and TASER International has worked with law enforcement to tweak and tune the TASER weapons to the needs of officers. Some changes were made because of design issues that were discovered once the units started taking a beating in the field, other changes were implemented just because TASER International saw that a change needed to be made. But, there's always room for improvement.

A company called Stinger Systems® has been on the scene for a couple of years now, trying to get a hand-held, electronic control device to market. In fact, they are in their second generation. Regardless of whether you are a TASER fan, or are looking for an alternative, Stinger Systems has incorporated some interesting developments into their newest model, the S-200. I'll just highlight three.

Both TASER models utilize a toggle lever for a safety/on-off switch, similar in design to what you might find on certain pistols that have a slide mounted safety. Stinger Systems uses, instead, a crossbolt safety similar to that found behind the trigger guard of a Remington® 870 shotgun. While TASER has redesigned their safety switch in order to address some earlier breakage problems, the Stinger crossbolt safety seems to provide a good alternative design which is less likely to break during use.

The TASER models use a reloading procedure requiring the officer to reach up to the front of the weapon to grasp the spent cartridge and remove it, and then to acquire a new cartridge and replace it by manually inserting it into the weapon. The Stinger incorporates an ambidextrous cartridge eject button located immediately in front of the trigger guard. The function of this release button is similar to a magazine release on a pistol, with the added bonus that it is activated by the shooter's trigger finger, thereby assuring that his or her trigger finger is not on the trigger, at least at the beginning of the reload cycle. The officer can then acquire a new cartridge a little more quickly because his support hand is free.

Lastly, because the Stinger cartridges sit fully inside the front of the weapon, they are less exposed to damage and the possibility of falling off due to being jostled. They are also less likely to come off in a holster, which was a problem with the original design of TASER cartridges (this problem has been addressed through a redesign of the release buttons on the TASER cartridge).

The TASER is a tried and true weapon, with a significant market share and user base. The Stinger is the new kid on the block, and it remains to be seen if departments will go for the new thing, or stick with the older, established thing. What is safe to say, however, is that the different design features of the Stinger will give rise to consideration of the TASER's features. Whether the Stinger succeeds or fails, perhaps this will lead to modifications that will enhance officer safety, and that, too, is a good thing.

These companies have provided products geared to making police work a safer profession. As long as they challenge each other in the marketplace, and we "in the market" use common sense (along with that "BS Detector"), law enforcement can only benefit. The goal for all of us is to keep officers safe, and to safely and effectively serve our communities.

Stay safe, and wear your vest!