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Phoenix police using pepper-spray balls and foam batons in less lethal force program

More Phoenix police officers are using new tools to reduce deadly force encounters. 

In late 2021, the department launched a less lethal force program and officers began carrying pepper-spray launchers and 40 millimeter foam baton launchers. Assistant Chief Bryan Chapman said the 40 mm provides greater accuracy.

“The national average response for a stun bag was for us to utilize 4.7 rounds per incident to gain compliance. With a 40mm platform, we resolve those in one to two rounds,” he recently told a council subcommittee.  

Between October 2021 and March 2023, the department reported less lethal tools were deployed 6,342 times and discharged 689, which is nearly 11%. 

Chapman said a pepper-spray ball is discharged more often than 40mm foam batons.

“If we have somebody hiding in a bush, for example, who was a bailout of a car, instead of sending somebody in or a canine into those bushes, we can saturate the area with a chemical irritant, which inevitably produces the desired effect and they come out to us," he said.

Before the department launched the pilot program, it shared information with a group of community members who endorsed the pilot program and, after receiving the data, approved a department-wide expansion.

Councilman Kevin Robinson, a retired Phoenix officer, requested details on who makes up the community group, “I think what is important is that we reach out to the folks who sometimes are the most critical of our actions because if we’re not getting them, we’re going to still hear the things, you know, the things that aren’t necessarily uncomfortable for us to hear and I think it’s important for those groups to be involved in the process because then it just takes away the opportunity for complaint later on.” 

Chapman said Robinson would have the information within a week. 

“These systems are having a real world positive impact on the outcomes that we want to see between police and community and they are a vital part of our de-escalation process,” he said.

The department is also training officers on de-escalation techniques developed by the Police Executive Research Forum known as Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics. The scenario-based training is for when officers encounter volatile situations with potentially dangerous people who are not armed with a gun. Phoenix has 14 instructors, and training began at all precincts in April.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.