As the militarization of our law enforcement and advances in less lethal weapons technology continue to unfold, we feel it is imperative to highlight the particular risks inhering to less lethal weapons that are silent and invisible to the naked eye, as well as to underscore proactive recommendations for accountability.
In a previous article, published in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice (SJSJ) on civilian oversight of law enforcement given new advances in less lethal weaponry, Dr. Loan Le (IGGI) and Maitria Moua (UCLA Law) elaborated on the risks that accompany new weapons tech based on the electromagnetic and acoustic spectrums.
With permission from SJSJ, a copy of the article is now available on our website: Le & Moua (2015) on civilian oversight of less lethal technologies in policing.
Dr. Le also recently completed a short article (a summary of the SJSJ project above) and submitted it to the NACOLE Review, which is a publication of the National Association for the Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
Both the SJSJ publication and the NACOLE Review manuscript list a handful of key recommendations for proactive and scrupulous oversight given challenges to auditing potential abuses with hard-to-detect and easy-to-deploy weapons. These include:
(1) Civilians should make public records requests for police agency use of force manuals so that they can assess policies across weapon types and assess adherence versus potential abuses. Although there are national standards for use of force, agencies can and do deviate in official policy on a local basis.
(2) Oversight professionals must become trained in how to assess abuses with new less lethal weaponry, which demands a very different kind of forensic analysis than that for traditional weapons with bullet casings and entry-exit sites etc.
(3) Agencies should demand that new weapons be manufactured with data recorders so that each discharge is logged automatically and available for later review.
(4) Oversight professionals will benefit from auditing powers such as randomized lie detector tests for informants and officials. Although officers may refuse under various circumstances, even an expectation of auditing may be enough to deter misconduct.
(5) Whistleblower protections must be strengthened, since abuses with new weapons will be even harder to detect. Certainly, developing less lethal technologies have a place in policing, especially where the outcome is that lethal force is avoided and lives are saved, however, we must proactively and systematically identify abuses and uphold accountability.
As a next step, we recently launched a collaborative new project on the relationship between official departmental policies on use of force and the discharge of weapons against suspects. Stay tuned for details!