I caught this article
about a new weapon under development by the Air Force and Marines, and I did a little digging on the subject of "non-lethal weapons". While most of the research is being done for the military, companies that supply law enforcement are also pretty active, the more so since the Taser has become more widely accepted, and better procedures put into place for it's use by police departments.
There were a couple of diaries with some really good discussion (and some of a lower quality)on this particular weapon yesterday, especially here and some here too. I've tried to put together some additional info to round out the discussion.
The Active Denial System weapon, classified as "less lethal" by the Pentagon, fires a 95-gigahertz microwave beam at rioters to cause heating and intolerable pain in less than five seconds.
But New Scientist Magazine
reported on Wednesday that during tests carried out at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, participants playing the part of rioters were told to remove glasses and contact lenses to protect their eyes.
In another test they were also told to remove metal objects like coins from their clothing to avoid local hot spots developing on their skin.
This weapon, named "Sherrif" (macho enough for you?) is scheduled for deployment in Iraq in 2006
This article mentions several possible systems, including one in use now in Iraq, a handheld low-power laser that "fills people's field of vision, inducing a temporary blindness"
Bitar heads Indiana-based Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems Ltd., which makes small blinding lasers used in Iraq. But his real project is a nonlethal energy device called the StunStrike.
Basically, it fires a bolt of lightning. It can be tuned to blow up explosives, possibly to stop vehicles and certainly to buzz people. The strike can be made to feel as gentle as "broom bristles" or cranked up to deliver a paralyzing jolt that "takes a few minutes to wear off."
The Taser as used in law enforcement: Link
"Since we've seen the implementation of the Taser, we've seen physical confrontations go down. I think the spin-off benefit is that the deputy injuries are going way down too," Burdett said.
But critics argue that not enough is known about the Taser and cite deaths caused by the instrument's surge of voltage. On Wednesday, a Florida man who officers said charged at them died after they used a Taser to subdue him.
According to Amnesty International, there were 103 Taser-related deaths in the United States and Canada between June 2001 and March 2005.
"Police departments are putting policies in place after they get the Tasers and after people have raised concerns and suspects have reported incidents of abuse," Amnesty International spokesman Edward Jackson said. "That approach puts the cart before the horse."
Answers.com has a good overview, with some interesting looking links (some were blocked from my work pc)
As a whole, the "non-lethal" or "less-lethal" technologies seem to be prone to the most serious problems when used incorrectly, but they also appear to be very easy to mis-use. Examples cited were pepper spray that was aimed directly at the victim's face, instead of at the chest, as it's supposed to be used, and rubber bullets, which are supposed to be bounced off of the ground, but were shot directly into crowds. Some google-monkeying showed plenty of articles talking about cops using tasers to diffuse a situation where a violent individual was threatening them or members of the public with knives, sticks, even a machete, where the individual was clearly a danger, and where the situation could easily have escalated into a deadly confrontation. There were also a few articles talking about specific cases of deaths where a taser was a factor, in combination with booze, drugs, or with existing health issues, etc. And then there were just a couple of articles about real nutters using their Taser for sadism, torture or rape. There's lots of PR from the manufacturers out there, but hard information is more rare. Mis-use or abuse can clearly make these weapons into tools of torture or death, but they also give your typical, honest, decent cop on the beat an alternative to drawing their gun. The Amnesty Int'l report cited above notes 103 Taser related deaths in the US and Canada over a 4-year period. I'm not sure how that compares to the number of deaths by police gunfire in the same period. (Anyone? I saw some contradictory statistics). If anyone is more familiar with the field, please do share your perspective.