Searching for Options

It is said that few things in this life are perfect. Remember that because we will be getting back to it later.

Back in the 1990’s, a series of high profile lawsuits prompted many police agencies to rethink their use of traditional tear gas as a way to subdue suspects. Some suspects had died after being sprayed with CS or CN tear gas agents. The reasons for the deaths could hardly be attributed solely to the use of chemical agents, but that had little bearing when a government agency is looking to reduce their chances of getting sued. Switching to pepper spray from the tried-and-true tear gas agents seemed to be a way to head off legal action while still providing a way to control violent suspects.

There was only one problem. The new stuff just wasn’t as effective.

Besides arresting individuals who decide to tear up the landscape, the police are also tasked with dispersing rowdy crowds and containing riots. A cloud of tear gas usually works to convince the less than committed that going home is more fun that stick around and destroy stuff that doesn’t belong to them, and there are grenades designed to disperse a cloud of pepper agent. The problem with that is those not directly involved with the riot tend to complain when they are downwind.

Some police agencies have responded by equipping their officers with souped-up paintball guns designed to deliver a charge of powdered pepper agent to individual targets. The problem with firing high velocity, heavy projectiles into a crowd is that a vulnerable spot will sometimes be at the point of impact.

That very thing happened in Boston on October 20, 2004. Victoria Snelgrove was struck in the eye by a projectile launched from a FN 303 less lethal weapon. The projectile caused brain damage and massive bleeding, and Ms. Snelgrove died about 12 hours after being injured.

This was certainly a tragedy, and the city of Boston has announced that they will no longer use the FN 303. I can’t help but wonder what will replace the launchers.

Lives and property is at risk when the mob acts up. The police have to be able to control the situation when that happens, and they better have the tools necessary to disperse the crowd when the situation warrants. Public opinion forces the police to change their gear, but that just changes the ways that things can go wrong. Everything is a trade off. It is unfortunate that the general public can’t seem to grasp this simple fact.

I mentioned the old adage about how few things are perfect. I disagree with that since I think nothing in this life is perfect. Traditional tear gas agents have a proven track record of success, so we should allow our police to gear up with what we know will work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Somehow I don’t think that will happen.

2 thoughts on “Searching for Options”

  1. Let me guess, the pepper-ball gun is in fact the very technology that critics demanded the police use instead of an older technology that also caused a death at some point.

    Critics always come roaring out the woodwork when the inevitable injury or death occurs but they never bother to present their own track record on such things. Conversely, deaths caused by the police being unable to control crowds, such as trampings, never get laid a the feet of dilettante critics who suddenly become experts when someone dies from a police weapon or tactic.

  2. Let me guess, the pepper-ball gun is in fact the very technology that critics demanded the police use instead of an older technology that also caused a death at some point.

    It is worse than that. Pepper ball guns were introduced because of complaints, nothing more.

    People were upset because their houses were in the path of a drifting tear gas cloud. Sometimes the complaints came from people who were actually standing around in the crowd of rioters when the gas was used, but they claimed that they were innocent bystanders who were just waiting for the mob to disperse before they could return to their regular routines.

    That is the same thing that people claim for Victoria Snelgrove, the young woman who I mentioned above and who was accidentally killed by a pepper ball back in 2004. They say that she was just hanging around, minding her own business, waiting until the mob parted and she could get to her car and go home.

    But she was standing in the middle of an unruly mob that ignored calls by the police to disperse! Couldn’t she have decided to, I dunno, go get coffee or something?

    Every time the riot police start to deploy, I figure it is time to go somewhere else.


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