Rubber Bullets: Less Lethal for Whom?
December 5, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Amid the national discussion on the use of lethal force by police officers, one Sheriff in Arizona claims he has a solution in the form of a multipurpose non-lethal Russian-made pistol. The pistol, known in Russia, as the pistolet travmatichyeski or Traumatic Pistol, is the Osa M09, the latest incarnation of the Osa PB-4-2 nonlethal pistol. Along with rubber jacketed steel rounds in an 18.5mm cartridge (12 Gauge), the pistol (which resembles a crude version of a pepperbox derringer) is also capable of firing pepper gel, flare, illumination and concussion rounds.
The pistol can also electronically “see” which chambers are empty and fire only a chamber with a round in it rather than cycle through them like a standard revolver. The manufacturer claims it has an effective range of around 90 feet. The pistol is being purchased from Defenzia, a Brazilian company with a contract to manufacture and sell the weapon in the US.
But are these weapons really less lethal? Images from Ferguson Missouri in the days following the Michael Brown killing by a white officer, and more recent reports from the Standing Rock protest in South Dakota, indicate that these weapons have plenty of potential to kill or maim a person for life. In Boston in 2004, a young Red Sox fan was hit in the eye and killed by a round designed to release pepper spray on impact.
The respected medical journal, Lancet, released a study analyzing the Israeli military’s use of Rubber bullets against Palestinians in 2000 and concluded that:
Inaccuracy of rubber bullets and improper aiming and range of use resulted in severe injury and death in a substantial number of people. This ammunition should therefore not be considered a safe method of crowd control.
Like the Taser, which is also supposed to be non-lethal, misuse can result in fatalities or permanent debilitating injuries. If police are trained thinking these weapons are less than lethal, they might be inclined to use them than is deemed necessary for a given situation. There have been enough deaths through the use of Tasers that it is clear they are deadly. Perhaps “non-lethal” should not be used at all to describe these weapons. The nationwide discussion is not just about police killing people with guns, although that’s at the top of the list: It’s about police brutality in general. Plenty of brutality can be distributed with something that is less-likely to kill you than a standard bullet from a gun.
Another question that comes up is just how much room there is on a police officer’s utility belt and consequences for an officer in a deadly encounter should he hesitate as a result of the varying choices of weapons attached there. Police love new toys as much as anyone, but how many is too many?
It is somewhat difficult to get a good impression of what police officers think about less than lethal options other than the Taser. The police-oriented magazines and websites have very few articles about them, and without that, you can’t drop down to the comments section to get much of an impression. The Taser, on the other hand, has a fairly comprehensive presence on the websites, product guides and equipment belts. With Taser International moving into the body-cam market, it seems like the company and its products are unlikely to be phased out by another less-than-lethal alternative any time soon.
Is it really big news that a sheriff in Arizona is outfitting his deputies with a generally untested new type of weapon? Maybe if he’s running for congress and/or reelection as sheriff at the same time. Babeau, no stranger to controversy at all, appears politically savvy enough to jump on the anti-police brutality bandwagon and gain some public support with a less-than-lethal weapon program.
However, his bid to keep his job and his run for a congressional seat both eluded him, and he’s out of a job. No word yet on whether new Pinal County Sheriff Mark lamb will continue the Osa pistol program or drop it.
When interviewed about the purchase of the new weapons, Babeau said of the national concern about police brutality:
This is a national conversation that’s going on, and it’s not going well for law enforcement.
He’s right about that.