Buckeye police prioritizing less-lethal weapons

The FN303 is used to shoot precise rounds that carry pepper spray, which would incapacitate a subject.

The police tactics and protocols on how to approach radical situations have changed since Assistant Chief Robert Sanders was a rookie. 

“Society has progressed. The role of the police officer now is to create time and distance and deescalate the crisis,” Sanders said. “But we’ve got to make sure we have the right tools.”

The Buckeye Police Department gives its officers the proper tools and training to prevent injuries and death in the field. They do so by implementing the right attitude when approaching a critical situation and providing less-lethal weapons that are used as a first resource.

Sanders said police work used to be less tactful and had fewer options of less-lethal weapons. Today, however, he is proud to say every squad carries an assortment of different weapons that can be used in crisis situations.

More so than just providing weapons, the BPD focuses on developing its officers’ communication skills.

An important tool the officers have, Sanders said, is “our voice, our command and how we speak to people. We try to build a rapport because we’re not here to fight. That’s not our job.”

Should there be a 9-1-1 call where a person can be either a danger to people or themselves, rather than storming through the doors and apprehending the person, BPD officers take their time to assess the situation. 

“They (officers) are going to develop a response plan; they’re going to try to establish communications with the person,” Sanders said. “We’re not going to go rushing in. We have all the time in the world.”

Should the situation escalate, BPD officers have been trained not to use their handgun if it is not necessary.

Sanders said every officer carries a baton, pepper spray and a Taser, and every squad has a bean bag shotgun, an FN303 and a 40 mm launcher.

Sgt. Zack Astrup said the less-lethal weapons have different purposes and a different range, so training on which weapon to use is crucial to keep fatalities at a minimum.

Astrup said none of the less-lethal weapons are nonlethal, as they could all potentially kill someone.

The pepper spray reaches 20 feet, but nearby standers can be contaminated, so the officers must be careful when to use it.

Moving on to the Taser, Sanders and Astrup said there are some common misconceptions with how it works.

The probes from the Taser can reach out to 25 feet, depending on the cartridge, but the contact with the subject must be nearly perfect for it to work correctly. Both probes must make contact with the subject, which will shock them for five seconds and will cause their muscles to lock up.

“Tasers aren’t as effective as people might think they are, because a lot of the times the probes don’t hit where they’re supposed to and you don’t get a good contact and get that muscle lock,” Sanders said. 

In addition, subjects who may be larger in size or are wearing heavy jackets could deflect the effect of the Taser. Some people can even fight through the pain.

For more serious situations, the bean bag shotgun is the next less-lethal weapon of choice for the officers.

The shotgun can be used at a minimum of 5 to 7 feet without fatally injuring someone, and it can reach 20 yards. Officers try to aim at appendages and extremities, as to not injure any vital body parts, Astrup said.

“It gives us the ability to reach out and touch somebody at a further distance so we’re not in that area where we have to use our hand gun or patrol rifle,” he said.

The FN303 reaches 50 yards and is used to incapacitate a subject. One of the rounds it uses carries pepper spray.

“It is not designed to penetrate; it’s designed to spread the powder out,” Astrup said. 

The contamination of the pepper spray should be enough to affect the subject, but it won’t spread out to bystanders, making it a precise weapon.

The last less-lethal weapon is the 40 mm grenade launcher, which also has two different types of rounds. One is for direct impact on the subject and the other is used to contaminate an area with tear gas powder, Astrup said. 

“This is designed for if we go to a house and someone is engaging us from inside of the house and we want to stop them or contain them,” Astrup said. “This (40 mm launcher) is for putting tear gas into a house.”

In addition to these weapons, every officer carries a tourniquet and a medical kit, and an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). These tools are helpful because police officers are often the first on scene and they need to be able to tend to potential injuries. 

“The Buckeye Police Department is unique in the sense that we are municipal, we’re county and we’re highway patrol department because of the distance we have,” Sanders said. “We do a lot of agency assists out here to help the fire department.”

Sanders said it is important for him and the police department to establish a healthy relationship with the people of Buckeye and to continue to educate the public on what methods they are using to diminish fatalities in the field.

“Our relationship with the community is great here. We don’t have a cultural history of the police not being part of the community or the police being too aggressive,” Sanders said. “That’s a legacy that we want to carry on.”

The BPD has given great effort to ensuring the safety of its officers when they are responding to distress calls. However, they keep in mind perpetrators also deserve respect, and they must do their best to use less-lethal tactics as their first resource. 

“We’re professional, we have officers who care, and we’re here to serve the public and we’re part of the community,” Sanders said. “We’re not here to end life. We’re here to save people.”