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Police protocols for less-lethal force during violent protests

Police protocols for less-lethal force
Posted at 5:49 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 20:50:24-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV)-- Protests around the nation have put police officers' less-lethal use-of-force under the microscope. A criminal justice professor explained the protocols taught in the Police Academy, and what is considered appropriate and excessive.

La Mesa Police used tear gas against riotous protestors rushing Police Headquarters on May 30, 2020.

"These are things that are designed to get people's attention, to shock them, to say get back," former El Cajon police officer and now criminal justice professor, Kevin LaChapelle said.

If the violent protestors disperse, LaChapelle said these less-lethal weapons are serving their purpose. He said in the Police Academy officers are taught to face threats using the "Force +1" method.

"If somebody is presenting a particular level of force towards me, I can respond with that force and then one more level to basically control the situation."

According to the National Institute of Justice, there are five basic levels of "use-of-force" to diffuse a situation.

1. It begins with officer presence, in which there is no use of force.

2. Then come verbal commands, such as an officer asking for identification or telling someone to 'Stop!'

3. The next level is empty-hand control, where an officer could grab, hold a person.

4. Then come the less-lethal methods, including a baton, taser, projectile, sound, or chemical sprays.

5. The last resort is lethal force or the use of a firearm.

LaChappelle said officers primarily use projectiles to control riots. Pepper bullets are normally deployed onto the ground, and when they skid, they emit an uncomfortable spray. Sound, light, or rubber bullets are aimed at or below a person's torso, which can cause bruises. The same go with beanbags, which can be filled with anything from styrofoam to harder materials.

"When people say, 'This is too uncomfortable, and I can't handle this. I'm going to stop. I'm going to leave,' that is what you're hoping for," LaChapelle said.

But to avoid these violent clashes, LaChapelle believes it is crucial to build relationships and dialogue between departments and the community.

"Lawlessness isn't the answer, but there has to be reform because what's worked in the past does not work for the future," LaChapelle said.

ABC10News asked the La Mesa Police Department for its exact protocols for the use of projectiles during violent riots. They sent us a link to their less-lethal weapons manual. Its philosophy states:

"Department approved less-lethal weapons may be both alternatives to deadly force and intermediate steps in the application of conventional arrest and control techniques, applied in a manner to meet an operational objective.
Department approved less-lethal weapons are used to stop aggressive behavior which, if not stopped, may result in serious injury or death. Generally it is the intent of officers to use less-lethal weapons to increase the chances of not having to use lethal force. When used properly, by trained personnel, these types of weapons are less likely to result in death or serious injury."
La Mesa Police Department