Issues on Less-than-Lethal Tools in Law Enforcement

Less-than-lethal (LTL) tools or weapons are used by the law enforcement and military as an alternative to lethal ones. LTL tools include rubber bullets, stun devices, bean bag shotshells and several others. These were produced for the primary purpose of confusing, incapacitating, restraining, or delaying suspects in many situations. Past events would show that LTL tools have been used to prevent suicide attempts and control confrontations in the streets, restrain riots or prison disturbances, and rescue hostages (Moss, n.d.).

There are two major ways on how LTL tools can become lethal. First, LTL tools become lethal when used improperly. Events since the 1970s have witnessed the occurrences of deaths and injuries due to the improper use of these tools. For instance, the beanbag round can cause death or serious injury when improperly used. Second, LTL tools become lethal when they are confused with lethal tools. To avoid this, law enforcement and the military must place marks to distinguish LTL tools from lethal tools (Moss, n.d.).

 With this information, a list of some of the common LTL tools will now be presented. LTL tools can be classified as electrical shock, chemical, impact projectile, acoustic, light, and physical restraint. Electrical shock tools use electricity to restrain the subject which are battery-powered. One popular example is the advances taser M26. Chemical tools, on the other hand, contain chemical incapacitants. They include pepper spray and tear gas, which are first used in the force continuum. The most popular type of spray is Oleoresin Capsicum which irritates the subject's eyes and temporarily disorients him or her (Moss, n.d.).

Another type of LTL tools is impact projectile, which aims to “deliver non-penetrating contact energy.” The most popular type of this is the beanbag which contains lead shot. Acoustic tools, meanwhile, are still being developed. These can produce imbalance and some psychological effects to the subject. These include hand-held sirens, speakers, and whistles. Light tools are mainly distraction tools which can confuse, disorient or frighten violent targets. The effect that these tools have can give officers the advantage towards restraining the crowd or subjects. Finally, physical restraint can be used before lethal force. It includes wire entanglement systems and nets (Moss, n.d.).


Moss, C. (n.d.). Less than lethal weapons. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from