Recently, I instituted a new policy at the Broward Sheriff’s Office that requires all law enforcement deputies to carry at least one less-lethal weapon in addition to their firearm while on duty.
Less-lethal weapons are explicitly designed and primarily employed to induce a subject to submit or comply with directions while minimizing fatalities, permanent injuries and unnecessary damage to property and the environment.
In my nearly 40 years in law enforcement, I know firsthand that there is no one right response to any given situation. In many instances, deputies have only a matter of seconds — sometimes fractions of a second — to respond to a potentially life-threatening situation. It is up to each trained deputy on the street to assess any imminent threat rapidly and decide whether a firearm or less-lethal weapon is the most appropriate tool to use.
That is why this new policy is so important. When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As a result of this new policy, deputies are afforded more options to de-escalate an incident while ensuring their safety, the safety of those around them and the safety of those individuals involved.
In addition to their firearm, deputies now must carry at least one of the following:
Impact Weapon (baton): These devices can be used in situations where there is an up-close encounter.
Chemical Agent (pepper spray): This irritates the eyes and temporarily restricts vision. It can be used from a farther distance than impact weapons to incapacitate and gain compliance over the perpetrator.
Conducted Electrical Weapons (commonly called “Taser”): This device provides an electrical discharge. It is more effective at a greater distance and, when effective, results in the total loss of control of voluntary muscles.
I also approved a tool, a Less Lethal Launcher, which is issued to specially-trained qualified deputies. Although it looks like a 12-gauge shotgun, it fires less-lethal bean bag-like projectiles designed to incapacitate an individual up to 50 yards away. The impact of one of these rounds can be compared to getting hit by a major league fastball in the upper thigh or lower abdomen. In addition, the menacing appearance and sound it produces often lead to quicker and greater compliance.
Not only are all deputies required to carry at least one less-lethal tool, but they also receive training and must demonstrate proficiency with that tool on a continuous basis.
Although police use-of-force incidents resulting in death by firearm decreased nationally in recent years, they still regularly make headlines. The requirement to carry a less-lethal weapon is the right decision not only for our deputies, but for the individual involved in the incident — and without question, it’s good for our community. Most importantly, it will save lives.