ELKHART — Elkhart police officers are adding a “less lethal” weapon to their belt.
The Elkhart Board of Public Safety on Tuesday approved a policy allowing the police department to use 40 millimeter less lethal launchers. The launchers are designed to temporarily incapacitate a dangerous person from a distance with less risk to themselves and a suspect.
The 1.6-inch projectiles fired by this type of launcher can be made from foam or gel.
“It delivers kinetic energy and disperses over the body. It’s very painful, but it’s less lethal and it’s designed mainly for when we’re dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals that are armed with a knife and we’re dealing with standoff distance,” said Todd Thayer, theassistant police chief.
He explained that the launchers are rifled, making them “extremely accurate.”
The new policy says that officers using the launchers must target a suspect’s buttocks, thigh, calf or large muscle groups. Officers are not allowed to intentionally target a suspect’s head, back, neck or genitals “unless deadly force is justified.”
Officers are allowed to use the launchers when a subject poses an imminent threat of harm to any person, when public safety interests dictate that the subject must be taken into custody, when hands-on control tactics would be more likely to cause harm to the subject than using the launcher, or to prevent substantial destruction of personal property.
When possible, officers are required to make a verbal warning to the subject before firing the launcher. If an officer does not, they would be required to document their reason for believing their safety would have been compromised by issuing a warning.
Thayer said that the use of launchers is much like the use of tasers, except launchers can be used at a greater distance, thereby improving safety.
“We can deploy this out to 80 yards, accurately,” he said.
Board of Public Safety vice-chairman Jean Mayes said she would be in favor of the new policy “as long as it saves lives.”
“Absolutely,” Thayer said. “That’s the whole goal.”
The city will not have to buy launchers, since the department already owns enough of them, according to public information officer Lt. Travis Snider. The department will not specify how many.
Only officers who are specifically trained for using the launchers will carry them. According to Snider, that will be multiple on each shift.
Less lethal launchers are more common in SWAT units than patrol, but using them outside of SWAT is a part of a de-escalation effort, according to Snider.
The board approved the policy unanimously.
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