WILMINGTON — At a recent meeting of the Wilmington Police Department Citizen Advisory Committee, police officials not only discussed the department’s calls for service and arrest volume, they spoke about a “less lethal” weapon police have for use – a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with bean bag rounds.
“It gives us the ability to buy time for us but also for us to make good decisions so that we can minimize any type of injury to persons we come in contact with,” said WPD Sgt. Ronald Cravens. “That’s what this weapon platform gives us the ability to do.”
Craven said one of his responsibilities is implementing a less lethal program, including the orange-handled 12-gauge shotguns with the words “less lethal” on them.
Cravens said the orange on the shotgun designates that the weapon is strictly for less lethal munitions, in this case “defense bean bags.”
Before the advent of the defense bean bags, actual bean bags were fired, but, according to Cravens, those can open up and give lacerations or remain closed and penetrate a person’s skin.
Cravens said there are several of the shotguns in use by the WPD, and the rounds — nine ounces of number nine shot — travel at 270 feet per second.
By comparison, former Reds’ pitcher Aroldis Chapman once pitched a fastball at 105 miles per hour, or 154 feet per second.
“Not only is it loaded by the operator … but it also has to be co-witnessed,” Cravens said. “This platform for us is nothing more than trying to gain compliance from the person. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to hurt them. We’re not trying to cause them serious injury. We want them to comply.”
Cravens said the defense rounds might be used when someone is combative, armed and possibly intoxicated or suffering from another affliction.
Cravens said officers are trained to use the less lethal shotgun on areas that won’t cause serious harm. He also said the training emphasizes that the weapon can be applied lethally, if, for instance, the operator fired it at someone’s head, chest or groin.
“When we think about the areas that we want to engage this platform from, it’s going to be the big meaty areas – the calves, the legs, the buttocks, the thighs, the arms,” Cravens said.
And, Cravens said, while using the weapon, officers are still expected to try and gain compliance from a suspect by giving commands between shots and assessing the situation, for instance.
Officers are also only allowed to use the weapon when another officer armed with a lethal weapon is covering them.
“Any time you deploy a less lethal platform, you have to have lethal cover,” Cravens said. “What other weapons may they have on them that I still don’t see?”
Also at the meeting, WPD Chief Duane Weyand said police have received 6,342 calls for service and arrested 419 people. To date, the department had two reports of use of force.
Weyand also reviewed recent major cases, including that of Bradley Bennett, who was recently indicted for allegedly trying to swallow 113 capsules of fentanyl and two of cocaine.
“One of the things we saw right at the beginning of this New Year was we had a handful of overdoses and they were all fentanyl-related,” Weyand said. “Fentanyl is the purest form of a controlled substance you can get. … It seems like when we have our overdoses it’s when a batch works its way in.”
Weyand said WPD officers and other agencies are responding to increased drug trafficking with increased patrols of major drug corridors.
Since that meeting, the department has begun using two body cameras. Two more are on order thanks to help from the Lion’s Club, Weyand said.
With help from two grants, Weyand said the department will purchase additional cruiser cameras as well as bullet proof vests.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.