A Split Second Decision

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When they sign on to the job, law enforcement officers know there’s a chance they’ll have to draw their gun. 

But that weapon doesn’t always need to be loaded with bullets. In Pennington County, the Sheriff’s Office is training its deputies for situations where they can use non-lethal force.

The sheriff’s office in Pennington County makes sure its deputies are prepared by doing extended-range, less-lethal munitions training.

“The intent of it is to give us the opportunity to gain control or gain compliance with a suspect that’s armed with a knife, non-compliant, something typically other than a fire arm so we can use that extended to try and gain control,” Todd Battest, Sergeant Warrants division PCSO, said.

“Through the course of our training we try to instill the confidence in our officers and deputies so that when they get out there, they know what to do, they’re used to making these kinds of decisions, they’re used to trying to deescalate,” Tony Verchio, Training Manager PCSO said.

The less lethal shotgun shoots these beanbag rounds and can be easily identified.

“They’re marked orange, bright orange, so even under stress, the law enforcement officer can easily identify it as less lethal,” Battest said.

A bean bag comes out of a hull, and the tail on the beanbag stabilizes it as it flies through the air.

“When it strikes an individual, and that beanbag flattens out and hits a larger surface area, which is transferring that energy that it’s carrying into the skin. Essentially, it’s like getting punched would be the best way to offer comparison,” Battest said.

The training can be used in a variety of situations.  

“Whether that be they’ve committed a crime and don’t want to comply, don’t want to go to jail, or you get somebody that’s in crisis through contemplating suicide, emotionally disturbed person, we don’t want to use lethal force unless that is our last option,” Battest said.

During a situation, officers give out commands to try and gain cooperation.

“Commands are given because our goal is to gain compliance so it’s commands, deploy, commands, assess, deploy, commands, assess, deploy. So it’s not just you fire until you gain compliance. You give the person the opportunity to comply after each deployment of the less lethal shotgun,” Battest said.

Another important aspect is having a more serious response.

“Because this tool is used in high risk events, we have to have a lethal cover component because if it rises to that level where we must deploy or use lethal force, you’ve got to have that lethal force immediately ready,” Battest said.

Through the training, officers will be ready for any situation that they come across.

“What that does is it helps them to understand what happens and it gives them the confidence that, “hey if I deploy this, and it works the way that it should work, and I deploy it successfully, then I can gain compliance,”” Verchio said.

It’s training that will hopefully save lives in the long run.

“Through using that less lethal munitions, as opposed to using lethal force, it absolutely saves lives,” Battest said.

“We truly want to protect the lives of everyone on the scene, whether that’s an innocent bystander, whether that’s the life of the suspect or person who is in crisis, or the lives of law enforcement,” Verchio said.

The department has its officers practice with a less lethal shotgun on an annual basis so they stay familiar with deploying it. 


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