By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
fficer protection encompasses a wide range of products and areas. Weapons, equipment, and protective clothing all are part of the equation. However, newer, smarter tools are being built not just for more flexibility or power but for the ability to protect law enforcement by defusing a difficult or dangerous situation before it reaches the point of no return.
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features officer protection.|
In an increasingly connected world, it does not take long for negative incidents to reach the public eye. Though physical protection is certainly at the forefront of any agency’s approach, a more preventive approach can help protect against incidents large and small that not only put officers at risk but also damage community trust.
“You usually hear more on the news about the bad and terrible things that happened,” said Celia Crane, public relations and social media manager for LaserMax, a Rochester, New York–based company that manufactures laser-sighting devices for firearms. “You rarely hear about the many good situations; you only hear about situations that went bad. You want the officers and the bad guys to put their weapons down without firing them.”1
At the same time, law enforcement and public safety agencies are looking to do more with less from both a financial and a manpower perspective.
“They want to do things more efficiently,” said Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International. “We have seen budgets go down. There are fewer recruits to hire. Agencies want force multiplier technology. One of the challenges is maximizing what a single officer can do.”2
Taken together, these two trends may be converging in a desire for law enforcement protection tools that keep officers safe—and conserve important resources—by preventing the unnecessary use of force, time, and energy.
To be certain, there are some undeniable and abiding essentials in officer protection. According to the most recent statistics from the FBI, violent crimes in the United States rose between January 2012 and June 2012 across most major categories and regions. Total violent crime rose 1.9 percent during that time, while murder rates rose 7.2 percent in cities with populations of 1 million or more and 5.6 percent in cities with population of 500,000 to 999,999.
As long as major crimes continue to be a serious problem for much of the United States, weapons will be an indispensible part of law enforcement protection. Colt Defense LLC, Mossberg and Sons, Smith and Wesson, AETCO Incorporated, and a host of other companies specialize in law enforcement weapons and accessories manufacture and sales.
Likewise, armor also affords critical protections. Armor of all stripes is available to law enforcement agencies from firms including Armored Solutions Incorporated, Patriot3, and Kevlar Dupont.
Keila Bowman, sales manager of Damascus Protective Gear, a Vermont-based manufacturer of protective gloves and other soft body armor, said sales are holding steady despite the poor economy.
“You want to protect your officers,” Bowman said. “Some of our glove models are made with Kevlar. They are cut resistant when you are searching or in a SWAT-style situation. Police chiefs will not want to cut into that quality.”3
Nevertheless, given the realities facing law enforcement on other fronts, more preventive tools appear to be gaining favor.
In the current environment of dwindling public funding, chiefs and budget managers are taking a more corporate approach to managing their resources.
“In a lot of places, the two-officer patrol is down to one,” Tuttle said. “So they want to know: What is the return on investment? They’re looking at this more as a business. It’s not unlike a car: you still want performance, but you also want things like better gas mileage.”
One example of this kind of efficiency-finding tool is the on-officer camera. These cameras are similar to cameras often mounted on patrol car dashboards, but are affixed to an officer’s body or clothing and provide 90 percent more coverage than dashcams. The technology, Taser’s Tuttle said, was slow to gain favor at first because of privacy and resource concerns, but has gained momentum lately.
“Two years ago, chiefs were saying ‘not on my watch.’ There was real apprehension,” said Tuttle. “But now we’re seeing fewer objections.”
Taser is one company offering an on-officer camera, called the AXON Flex. Tuttle said they afford better protection for everyone involved and help an officer show his or her side of the story following a contentious struggle or other disputed incident.
“Cameras provide a clear return on investment,” Tuttle said. “Perps behave better, and officers behave better. It’s better on both sides of the badge when you’re being filmed.”
The results are solid. According to Tuttle, meritless complaints have dropped among agencies using AXON Flex.
“It’s not so much shootings where it makes the most difference. It is day-to-day things like traffic tickets,” Tuttle explained. “An officer can go to the film after getting a complaint, and you can actually see whether he was rude or not. It provides accountability to all parties.”
Of course, all that video footage has to go somewhere. Enter Evidence.com, Taser’s cloud computing companion for the onofficer camera.
“We do that work for them,” Tuttle said. “Agencies control how long it’s kept and how it’s managed. You can set it all. You can share those files with your detectives or your district attorneys.”
Taser’s on-officer camera price is $999 per officer for hardware and about $1.50 for every gigabyte of storage on the cloud, though that rate can vary, Tuttle said.
In addition to its benefits for officers in the field, filming recruits can be a good training tool. Training is a key part of protection and prevention, as it helps stop bad situations before they start. The more true to life that training is the more effective it will be. That’s where tools like Blueguns come in. Blueguns provide realistic training experiences without the risk of using live firearms.
“It gives the departments a gun just like the one they’re carrying,” said Carl Ring, owner of Ring’s Manufacturing Incorporated, the Florida company that makes Blueguns. “They train with a gun without having to use a real gun. It’s safer because they can’t shoot each other.”4
According to Ring, Blueguns don’t swell like other brands, thanks to their polyurethane construction. Ring, who got his start creating weapons for the film industry (which his company still does today), said he can make a rubber replica of just about anything, from a hand gun to a crowbar to a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
“If there’s a new product on the market and departments start telling us they want it, we can buy it and make a mold,” Ring said.
There are, of course, options for defusing a real situation in the field. One of those options is the LaserMax laser sight. Part of the laser’s effectiveness is the universal language of the gun laser: If you see a point of light on your person, you are far more likely to stop in your tracks, Crane said.
“We have testimonies that say that the laser on the subject’s chest will stop a situation more often than it won’t,” said Crane. “We feel strongly that it’s a liability reducer. We don’t want to have shootings, and this really helps to shut those down.”
Additionally, they can help officers better communicate with one another in the heat of the moment.
“When you have multiple officers in a situation, the lasers can provide visual cues. If you see someone else’s laser point on a subject, you know it’s OK to go to another room,” Crane said.
Tasers are also an option. According to Tuttle, Tasers are getting smarter. Thanks to new digital models like the X26P, the electric stun gun is now self-diagnostic, with improved abilities to download software updates and other data. It also allows agencies to track vital data related to the operation of each individual unit.
“We can keep track of each pulse. How long was it used, whether it hit any resistance,” Tuttle said.
Weapons and other tools used to protect officers will likely not abate any time soon, but will continue to get smarter and more efficient, with the goal of helping officers maintain the safety of the public and prevent danger before it starts. ?
1Celia Crane, telephone interview with the author, February 27, 2013.
2Steve Tuttle, telephone interview with the author, February 20, 2013.
3Keila Bowman, telephone interview with the author, February 28, 2013.
4Carl Ring, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2013.
Please cite as:
Scott Harris, "Officer Protection," Product Feature, The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 50–51.