LAPD Report: Less-Lethal Launchers Often Ineffective Against Suspects

March 11, 2024
A recently released LAPD report found that less-lethal projectiles were only successful in helping subdue uncooperative suspects in just over a third of the incidents when they were deployed.

Launchers that fire soda can-size foam projectiles to subdue uncooperative individuals were successful in just more than a third of the encounters when they were deployed by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2023, according to a new report.

In eight of the 133 instances where the less-lethal projectiles were deployed last year, they failed to stop their targets and officers then shot the individuals with firearms, according to the report.

The LAPD report released this week evaluating the effectiveness of the launchers was requested by city police commissioners in response to the Feb. 3 fatal shooting of 36-year-old Jason Lee Maccani of Camarillo.

The shooting unfolded at 2:15 p.m. when LAPD officers were directed to a warehouse in the 600 block of Towne Avenue in the Skid Row area in response to a report of an erratic man armed with a large stick or pole threatening employees.

Officers found Maccani on the fourth floor of the building, where it was reported he had access to sharp items and metal objects, LAPD spokesperson Capt. Kelly Muniz said in a graphic critical incident video.

Police approached Maccani, ordered him to leave the location with his hands above his head, and then told him to walk backward toward them. At first, Maccani complied but then turned and charged toward the officers clenching a white object in his right hand.

"One of the officers observed Maccani holding what he believed to be a screwdriver and deployed a 40-millimeter less-lethal foam projectile round," Muniz said. "Another officer fired two beanbag shotgun rounds at Maccani. However, all the less lethal munitions were ineffective."

Maccani continued to advance toward the officers still holding what another officer believed was a knife. He then made contact with an officer, grabbing a beanbag shotgun, Muniz said.

Police opened fire, striking Maccani in the chest. Body-worn video shows officers performing CPR on Maccani, who died at a local hospital.

It was determined that the object Maccani clutched in his hand was a white plastic fork, not a screwdriver or knife.

Recently retired LAPD Chief Michel Moore has expressed concerns about the shooting. Maccani's family has filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD. They believe he was suffering a bipolar episode when he was shot.

Launcher designed to inflict pain

The 40-millimeter launcher that failed to subdue Maccani fires a foam projectile traveling at up to 188 mph and is intended to cause pain but not serious injury or death.

The projectile is designed to distribute energy over a broad surface area and not penetrate the body. The primary target is the navel or beltline.

Attempts by LAPD officers to subdue Jason Maccani with a less lethal projectile failed Feb. 3, 2023, who was killed in a police shooting. ( LAPD photo via YouTube)

The LAPD is the largest agency in the nation to use less-lethal launchers as an intermediate force option. Of the 133 projectiles deployed by LAPD officers in 2023, 49 were effective for a 37% success rate.

The LAPD report analyzed deployment protocols, frequency of use, and effectiveness of the launcher among the nation's five largest law enforcement agencies, including those in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The launcher is not available to patrol officers in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, and the LAPD did not ask why they weren't used.

Houston and LASD patrol personnel used the launcher, but information on the effectiveness of the projectiles wasn't tracked. Houston officers fired launchers 21 times in 2023, according to the report.

Additionally, at least 7,000 launchers sold by Defense Technology were deployed by 900 smaller agencies in the U.S. over the past two years, the LAPD said.

In 2019, the LAPD and the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C., sponsored a symposium to dissect the challenges officers face in use-of-force situations and to develop ideas for new less-lethal tools.

The daylong conference in Los Angeles drew 225 police chiefs, sheriffs, tactical trainers, academic experts and less-lethal industry leaders.

When police encounter a threatening person with a firearm, officers have limited options, according to a report highlighting discussions from the symposium. However, when an individual is armed with a knife, a blunt object or a weapon other than a gun, there are more alternatives to resolve the incident without lethal force.

Less-lethal weapons and tactics include various types of pepper spray or chemical agents, electronic control weapons such as Tasers, devices that propel soft projectiles such as beanbags, polycarbonate shields, batons, guns that deploy nets and pepper balls.

Beanbag limitations

The first generation of soft projectile devices was the beanbag shotgun that deploys a small cloth pouch filled with metal pellets. However, attendees at the symposium reported several shortcomings with the device, including:

  • A need for officers to be somewhat close to the suspect.
  • The frequent need for multiple shots.
  • The possibility that individuals can use makeshift shields to protect themselves.
  • Ineffectiveness on some individuals, especially those under the influence of drugs such as PCP, or those in crisis who are impervious to pain from beanbags.

On numerous occasions, however, beanbags have resulted in serious injuries and death.

On March 6, a Buena Park man, whose name has not been released and who was acting erratically in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Fullerton, was approached by police, who first tried to subdue him using a Taser. When that failed, police fired "non-lethal" beanbags at the man, who was struck by the projectiles and later died at a hospital.

Elsewhere, a 47-year-old woman was killed in 2023 by Australian police after a beanbag projectile penetrated her chest and hit her in the heart. In 2022, a 42-year-old man died after Vancouver police shot him with a beanbag.

Additionally, a 61-year-old woman was partially blinded by a beanbag round during a 2020 George Floyd protest outside La Mesa police headquarters in San Diego County. She received a $10 million settlement from the city last year.

The injuries and death from non-lethal projectiles aren't an anomaly and should be a cautionary tale for police, said the National Police Accountability Project.

"There are so many examples of people suffering severe injuries from less-than-lethal projectiles during the 2020 George Floyd protests," the NPAP said in an email. "Given how harmful we've seen these projectiles can be, departments and individual officers alike should know that they should not be used to subdue a person in mental distress, especially not if they are being fired at close range."


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