Lawrence police switch to ‘less lethal’ beanbag shotguns

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The Lawrence Police Department has transitioned from patrol shotguns to “less lethal” beanbag options this week, according to a news release from the department.

“The old shotguns, which were commonly used beginning in the 1970’s, are now fully retired and all ammunition, safely disposed of,” according to the release. “Sworn personnel will complete training on the less lethal shotgun this week. Personnel who become certified on the less lethal shotguns will be required to qualify annually.”

The weapons change that Chief Rich Lockhart announced comes on the heels of other policy changes he’s initiated in recent months, including bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants. All have the goal of reducing the potential for fatalities.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times LPD Chief Rich Lockhart

Beanbag shotguns are still dangerous weapons and can even be fatal, but the rate of fatalities is exponentially lower. According to a February 2021 article from Police1 — an industry publication from Lexipol, the company that provides policies for LPD and numerous other departments nationwide — shot placement is a key factor and an important part of officer training.

“Police officers in North America have been involved in at least thirteen cases since 1971 where impact projectiles like bean bag rounds were used and a fatal outcome followed. Each case involved unique and varied circumstances, but it is readily apparent that ‘chest as aiming point’ is the most common and recurring theme,” the article states.

Comparatively, though, 13 deaths over 50 years is far fewer than the nearly 600 police shooting deaths nationwide so far this year.

Lockhart said the decision was “essentially a no-brainer.”

“No one wants an incident with a deadly outcome; not the police, not the community, and certainly not the person in crisis nor that person’s family,” Lockhart said in the release. “But the truth is, people in crisis or those committing violent crimes, simply are not thinking rationally and our officers took an oath to protect the innocent and keep Lawrence safe and secure. Having more tools to confine, deescalate, and conclude a dangerous situation, while reducing the risk of fatality, will always be our goal.” 

Beanbags can be deployed from ranges up to 75 feet, “which can give officers time and distance to make better tactical decisions than is permitted during face-to-face encounters,” according to the release.

This photo from May 2011 shows examples of intact bean bag shotgun rounds, and an exposed bean bag round projectile between them. (Wikimedia Commons)

At close range, police have batons, tasers and pepper spray. At longer ranges, LPD policy states, officers may use less lethal rounds when a person is armed and in situations such as those when “the subject has made credible threats of self-harm or harm to others, riotous behavior in which dangerous projectiles are being thrown at officers or others, or if there is probable cause to believe the person has already committed a violent crime and is refusing to comply with lawful orders.”

Any use of the beanbag shotguns must be documented in the related incident report, as well as on a use of force report form.

The full policy is below. The department’s full policy manual is available via this link.


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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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