Exactly how many weapons do you carry? How prepared are you to use them? How prepared are you to keep someone else from using them, and maybe use them on you?
Most officers carry at least one firearm most of the time. Some officers carry a back-up firearm at least while they're on duty. Each of us knows at least one officer that carries more than two guns. There's an old joke in there somewhere that involves a fellow officer carrying so much hardware that he rusts in place if he gets caught in the rain.
Of course, aside from your sidearm, many of you have some sort of long gun in the vehicle you drive on duty, whether it's a shotgun of patrol rifle. So it's safe to say that most officers have at least one and maybe two firearms at their disposal. Is that all?
Many officers work for departments that have provided them with one or more non-lethal alternatives. This category can cover many different things, such as aerosol spray, batons, electronic control devices, and "less-lethal" munitions. We should also consider the various restraint systems that we use, i.e. handcuffs and the like, as weapons, since that is what they are.
Is that all? That's a lot of technology at an officer's disposal. Of course that means you have to train with it all, and then hit the street carrying it all.
By the way, how's your back?
Many officers would stop here, having made a pretty long list of technological force and control alternatives. If you stop here, you've left out a few things... like your knife, and your car, and anything else in the immediate area. In fact, the world is full of weapons of opportunity, or what department policies sometimes refer to as last resort weapons. The idea here is that various things can be used as weapons, even though that's not what the technology is intended for. A good example might be your flashlight, or your portable radio.
Of course, the reason these things are considered weapons of last resort is that using them as weapons can have detrimental consequences. Because of that, you're expected to limit their use as weapons to those times where things are really desperate, and your life - or the life of another - is at risk. So, if a suspect is trying to disarm you, you might strike him or her with the radio or flashlight that's already in your hand, rather than taking the time to grab your baton off your belt.
The detrimental effects of using these last resort weapons really take three forms, two of which you've probably already thought of. First, using something like a radio or a flashlight is likely to cause more serious injury to the person that you are defending against, due to the weight or the physical configuration of the weapon you choose. Think sharp edges here and you've got the picture.
Secondly, hitting someone with your radio means that you've just employed an impact weapon that cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. That's not an issue when a life is at stake, but it might be if you can't articulate why such a choice was necessary.
Finally, and one issue that you might not have given as much thought to, there is the very real possibility that your adversary will choose one of these weapons of opportunity, and use it on you. In fact, when a bad guy comes to the fight, just about anything in the area - including your firearms - are weapons of opportunity to him or her. In this sense, technology is absolutely a two-edged sword.
When law enforcement professionals consider this issue, it's typical that the talk turns to weapon retention training and practices. Traditionally that has meant firearm retention. Now, however, with officers carrying so many more items that could be turned against them, we need to broaden our approach to weapon retention. We need to think about how we will avoid being injured or killed by a suspect that grabs our baton, or our flashlight, or even our ink pen. A creative suspect - especially one that has been schooled in the art of criminal mischief while incarcerated - can use just about anything to harm you.
Officers sometimes take the position that if a suspect grabs their OC or their baton, or anything else that might be available, they will just use deadly force. In many cases, that is probably the best option, and the safest thing to do. But officers need to consider the capabilities of the weapon that the suspect has armed himself with. For example, if he or she grabs your baton, you might need to use deadly force. However, if you can keep distance between you and the suspect, you might not need to, at least not immediately
That is not to say that officers shouldn't be ready to escalate to high levels of force should such a situation develop. The old adage of, Never take a stick to a knife fight in all of its permutations absolutely applies here. If an officer perceives that his or her life, or the life of another, is at risk, then appropriate force should be used to keep those lives safe.
Officers do need to realize, however, that should deadly force be used in response to a threat from what law enforcement typically refers to as a non-lethal weapon, there will be a vigorous investigation. Officers need to be clear in their documentation of the incident. Great detail regarding the suspect's actions and responses - or lack thereof - to the commands of officers, should be included in reports of the incident.
The public - and that includes prosecuting attorneys, internal affairs investigators, politicians, and the like - will be very sensitive to the fact that the officer was faced with a non-lethal weapon. When reporting the incident, officers must take care to describe the danger that the suspect posed, and the need for higher levels of force by officers.
By the way, there's one weapon available to officers that we haven't discussed - probably because we don't think of it as a piece of technology. However, it is probably the most significant weapon an officer has, both in dealing with an incident, and in documenting an incident's aftermath. That weapon is the officer's brain. Officers that have trained their brain to deal with critical situations through what-if exercises and other means of developing and augmenting their knowledge have an awesome weapon. Experienced officers know that there is no substitute for training with this most powerful of weapons. In the final analysis, officers' knowledge, skills and abilities are what set them apart from other individuals. Technology can help us, but the power of the mind is what truly keeps us safe.
Stay safe, and wear your vest!