Some Portland Police officers will carry new less-lethal projectile weapons within a week, as part of the bureau’s efforts to make significant changes to the platform over the last two years.
According to the Portland Police Bureau, it’s the biggest upgrade to its less-lethal shotgun program in about 20 years.
Police told FOX 12 Monday that Training Division officers finished assembling the weapons last month, and officers have completed necessary trainings to carry them.
“It’s a totally different operating system. It’s completely new,” said Training Division Capt. Robert Day. “But it’s still the same concept.”
Day said officers have been using the tactic since the late 1990s to gain compliance from dangerous suspects in volatile situations, but decided in recent years to upgrade to a new system that’s safer and utilizes better technology.
The new device, or “launcher,” is designed specifically to shoot a foam projectile. Officers said it’s much more accurate, fires farther, and is safer than the beanbag pellets currently used.
Officer Gabe Hertzler is tasked with implementing the new program.
“It’s a single shot system, so it fires on round and then requires a reload,” Hertzler said. “Just a kind of a sponge-nose projectile. The expectation is that it’s going to cause a bruise, not a significant injury.”
“We can create space, we can create time, and we can reach out and touch people from a farther distance,” Day said. “That’s safer for everybody until the situation is resolved and we can actually move in.”
The change comes years after a glaring example that put the weapons in the spotlight.
In 2011, Portland Police Officer Dane Reister accidentally shot rounds of live ammunition at a suspect instead of the intended less-lethal pellets. A big part of the problem? Either option could be fired from the guns designated as less-lethal.
“That was so dramatic, and I remember how significant that was,” Day said, adding that the bureau made significant changes to how less-lethal and lethal ammunition could be stored and carried following that incident.
The suspect, William Monroe, was critically injured in the shooting and Reister was later fired from the bureau.
The city ended up paying Monroe more than $2 million.
According to Day, it’s a mistake that won’t happen again, because the new launching system can’t fire real bullets.
Officers said they don’t expect to use the new weapons often.
Day said less-lethal shotguns were fired in only 10 cases in 2017 – with 36 rounds total rounds fired.
He said he expects that number will go down in the future, especially because the new weapons are more accurate.
Ultimately, officers said the devices will be used in hopes of de-escalating situations, and as an alternative to deadly force.
Portland Police purchased 150 of the new weapons.
The total cost of the new program is just over $300,000, according to the bureau.
Dozens will carry them initially, with possible expansion in the future.
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