NPR logo More Police Training Urged on 'Less-Lethal' Weapons


More Police Training Urged on 'Less-Lethal' Weapons

The Stern Report

Former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern headed the committee that investigated the death of Victoria Snelgrove. The panel found that the Boston Police Department lacked clear policies on the proper use of less-lethal weapons.

Sri Louise Coles was one of 50 people injured on April 7, 2003, when Oakland police used less-lethal weapons on a peaceful protest crowd. Coles was shot in the jaw. hide caption

Click here to see the full extent of Coles' injuries. (Warning: Link leads to graphic image.)
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Pepper pellets, bean bags, tasers and other so-called "less-lethal weapons" are gaining popularity with police departments around the country, especially for crowd control.

But the death of Victoria Snelgrove, a young woman killed outside of Boston's Fenway Park last fall after a pepper-pellet fired by police shot her in the eye, led investigators to conclude that law-enforcement agencies need more training on how to use the weapons safely.

While Snelgrove's is the only known death from a less-lethal weapon in a public disorder situation, the preventable failures of Boston police hold lessons for the more than 17,000 police departments in the United States. There is no national repository of data on less-lethal weapons, nor are there national testing or evaluation standards.

In Oakland, Calif., the police department is now barred from using a number of less-lethal weapons for crowd control. At a peaceful protest in 2003, police hurt more than 50 people, with injuries ranging from deep bruising to broken hands and permanent disabilities.

Athena Desai of member station WBUR reports.