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Non-lethal force

From Academic Kids

Non-lethal force is force which is not inherently likely to kill or cause great bodily injury to a living target. In the past, police (or soldiers in Military Aid to the Civil Power) called to a riot were primarily limited to use of bayonet or sabre charges, or firing live ammunition into the mob. To control the violence with minimal risk to human life, non-lethal riot control technologies were developed in the 1960s. Similarly, police officers on patrol were traditionally armed with a baton or a pistol, which seemed to represent an excessively dangerous response to many common problems. Thus in the 1980s and 1990s non-lethal personal sidearms, such as pepper sprays and stun guns, were developed for use by police and also self-defense by private citizens.

As different parts of the body differ in vulnerability, and because people vary in weight and fitness, any weapon powerful enough to incapacitate is likely to be capable of killing under certain circumstances. Thus "non-lethal force" may have some risk of causing death: in this context "non-lethal" only means "not intended to kill". For this reason, two new terms, "less than lethal" and particularly "less-lethal", were coined and are now being used in place of "non-lethal" by many weapons manufacturers and law enforcement agencies (and even those who oppose their common use in riot control).

A report prepared for the European Parliament classified non-lethal weapons as techniques of political control. In an appraisal of those techniques, the Omega Foundation recognized non-lethal crowd control weapons, prisoner control technology, interrogation technologies and surveillance technologies, including human recognition and tracking devices and global police and military telecommunications interceptions networks, as elements of a growing arsenal of non-lethal political technology that can pose a threat to civil liberties.

Weapons not designed as lethal instruments often nevertheless prove fatal. An estimate by the International Association of Chiefs of Police suggested at least 113 pepper spray related fatalities had occurred in the United States, mostly from positional asphyxia. Amnesty International in 1997 released a report titled USA: Police use of pepper spray is tantamount to torture.

A continuing issue with less-lethal weapons concerns training and use. Claims for the relative safety of such weapons are usually contingent on their being used "properly." For example, the rubber bullets developed during the 1960s were supposed to be fired at the ground and hit the target only after ricochet. In practice they were often fired directly at human targets and caused serious injury. Similarly, the chemical agent MACE is, according to manufacturers, supposed to be sprayed on the chest, and police organizations say that officers are trained to use it that way; but in actual practice, police frequently spray MACE directly at the face, probably because this is more effective.

During the 1990s and early 2000s interest in various forms of less-lethal weapons has risen, both in military and police contexts. The interest arose, in part, because the use of less-lethal weapons may, under international law and treaty, be legal in situations where weapons such as lethal gasses are not.

In 2001 the United States Marine Corps revealed its development of an energy weapon called the Active Denial System, a device said to be capable of heating the skin of a target individual to approximately 130 degrees fahrenheit (54 degrees celsius) in about two seconds, causing intolerable pain.

In the 1936 science-fiction movie, Things to Come, based on a novel by H. G. Wells, virtuous technocrats of the new age drop the "Gas of Peace" from airplanes on their opponents, anesthetizing them and allow them to be captured without harm. However, that did not work quite so well in real life during the Chechen conflict, when on October 26, 2002, fifty Chechen separatist guerillas, armed with automatic weapons and bombs, were holding seven hundred civilians as hostages in a Moscow theatre. Russian special forces gassed the theatre with an opiate based on fentanyl. Everyone in the theatre was rendered comatose, and the guerrillas were shot at gunpoint. However, a hundred civilians were killed by the gas, and while over six hundred survived, some are likely to have permanent disability.

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Less-lethal force in the news

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Victoria Snelgrove

Victoria Snelgrove (October 29, 1982 - October 21, 2004) was an American Boston Red Sox fan. She was accidentally killed near Fenway Park by a blunt trauma / pepper spray projectile fired from an FN 303 (a compressed-air system similar to those of a paintball gun) manufactured by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal – classified as a less-lethal weapon – which hit her in her eye causing her to bleed excessively. She died at 12:50pm EST at Brigham and Women's Hospital (http://www.brighamandwomens.org/) in Boston, Massachusetts. A video of the scene shows the crowd dispersing once they realized the severity of her injury as she lay face-down on the ground bleeding.

Boston Police Department (http://www.ci.boston.ma.us/police/default.asp) Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole reported that the police believed to be involved were not trained or authorized to use the weapon, and have been placed on leave, their names are being withheld until after the investigation. The inquiry is being led by former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern best known for prosecuting mob figures, including fugitive Winter Hill Gang leader James "Whitey" Bulger. O'Toole has accepted the department's responsibility, however she has also blamed the "punks" who turned the event into a "near-riot".

Because of this incident several police forces including Seattle's have temporarily discontinued use of this weapon until after the results of the investigation are published.

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