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Hidden with code "Submitted as Feature"
News :: Human Rights : Social Welfare : Technology
23 Oct 2004
Modified: 04:42:55 PM
PepperBall guns, Bean Bag Projectiles and Tasers, seem to be a good idea at first. They have been used to take down knife wielding hostage holders and neutralize would be suicide victims all over the country. They give officers a chance to leave their guns in the holster and defuse dangerous situations without killing.

In these situations the risk to life and limb is very real there and is a compelling logic to their use, even a fairly good record to back it up. A certain number of violent criminals have died as a result of bean-bags, pepper spray, and Tasers, but without less than lethal weapons, a gun would be used, and a death would be more likely.

But according to studies of some police departments, more than half of the people who end up on the business end of non-lethal weapons are not criminals, and over 80% are not threatening officers or the public with weapons of their own. That was definitely the case Thursday when a Boston Police Officer fired several shots indiscriminately into a crowd of celebrating Red Sox fans with a PepperBall gun, killing 21year old Emerson journalism student Victoria Snelgrove. The Boston Globe reported only that a bottle was smashed near the police, who were wearing full riot gear at the time. The police are trained to maintain a code of conduct regardless of the conduct of others. One would expect an officer of the law to exercise restraint when wielding a weapon capable of deadly force.
The PepperBall gun, developed by a company called PepperBall Technologies, is perhaps the least lethal weapon of a growing class of law enforcement weaponry called less than lethal weapons. But less than lethal is a false label. Practically all less than lethal weapons have proven their capability to be lethal. Yet police departments across the country continue to use them indiscriminately as a method of crowd control and â??complianceâ??, instead of limiting their use to people who are in the act of a crime.

In light of this, a study done by the Omega Foundation for the European Parliament in 2000 recommended: â??Any crowd control weapon capable of producing a lethal impact should be subject to the same legal procedures and post incident inquiry as if it were a lethal firearm.â?? This would mean that the police would have policies that would limit the use of these weapons to situations where the risk of lethal force would be worth taking, and if that policy was not followed, the police officer who fires at innocent people would be prosecuted.

The Boston Globe recently reported that, â??No accurate statistics exist for any injuries from pepper-filled balls or other types of nonlethal weapons.â?? This may be true, but the statement is misleading. This might lead one to believe that people do not die from less than lethal weapons, or that deaths have not been recorded, or that no organization has studied the problem. But deaths have been recorded and those records have been gathered for study. Searching the archives of US newspapers will produce a number of stories about people dying from pepper spray, tasers, and bean-bag projectiles (although this may be the first incident of a pepperball related death). The Omega Foundation and the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University at Bradford in the UK have both released studies that highlight the dangers and deaths associated with all less than lethal weapons. These studies have emphasized the dangers associated with these weapons and made recommendations for their safe use that have so far been ignored by the US media and US law enforcement.

Here is a brief overview of the weapons that are classed â??Less-than-lethal.â??

PepperBall Guns combine the use of projectiles with a synthetic chemical agent called PAVA powder (Pelargonic Acid Vanillyamide), or Capsaicin II, a version of pepper spray. Both have the potential to become lethal. PepperBall technologiesâ?? website recommends the use of a full face mask, throat collar, and groin protection for police training with the weapons â??to prevent injury.â?? When inhaled. PAVA powder causes acute burning of the eyes, temporary blinding, and severe inflammation the mucous membranes and upper respiratory system that in turn leads to uncontrollable coughing fits. The Los Angeles Times reported 61 deaths associated with pepper spray from 1990 to June 1995 (June 18,1995).

This article will contain more info on other weapons by 4pm today. The links below lead to two very good sources on the lethal potential of these weapons.

This work is in the public domain