by ELENA DURNBAUGH
The Shelby Township Police Department recently added a new shotgun to their less-lethal weapon system.
The gun, which was introduced last month as part of the department’s quarterly range training, is now carried in all patrol vehicles. It fires beanbag rounds instead of bullets and provides officers with another option below the use of deadly force.
The shotgun is in addition to the tasers and chemical spray that officers already carry. Although the other less-lethal options are effective, they can only be used in close range compared to the beanbag rounds.
Deputy Chief Mark Coil of the Shelby Township Police Department said that tasers and chemical spray are only good for up to 15-21 feet and that having this new weapon gives officers more options.
“It affords the opportunity to de-escalate, so police can dialog with the person who is not in compliance,” Coil said. “Our job is to ultimately end these situations peacefully.”
Coil said that officers would use these shotguns in situations where a person was presenting a threat above verbal non-compliance but below lethal threat. For example, if someone was armed with a tool that could be used as a weapon but wasn’t a deadly threat to officers, police would use this less-lethal option.
“We’ve taken a traditional tool-set, an 8-70 shotgun, and we’ve evolved it,” Coil said. “At the end of the day, it’s that application.”
Coil said the department started introducing the less-lethal shotguns back in 2016. At that time, though, the weapons were only carried in the commanders’ vehicles. At the end of 2018, the department began rolling the shotguns out to all officers.
The less-lethal shotguns are part of the Shelby Township Police Department’s response to the increased number of calls to respond to people with mental health issues or under the influence of drugs. Drug use, especially the use of opioids like heroin and fentanyl, is a growing problem in the area. Between 2015 and 2016, the total drug related deaths in Macomb County increased by nearly 28 percent, according to the 2017 annual report from the Macomb County Medical Examiner. In 2017, the total number of drug related deaths increased by another 6.15 percent. In addition to expanding their less-lethal weapon response, all officers carry narcan, a medication used to revive people who have overdosed.
The higher frequency of drug related calls means that police departments are seeking more training for how to respond.
Raymund Macksoud is the director of Macomb Community College Police Academy and Manager of the Criminal Justice Program at Macomb Community College. Many departments in the tri-county area, including Shelby Township, use the facilities at the academy to train their officers. Macksoud said that there has been an increase in interest among agencies for less-lethal weapons training because of the frequency of calls to deal with people who are mentally unstable or under the influence of drugs.
“It’s causing law enforcement to get more training in those areas themselves,” Macksoud said. “It’s causing us to expand.”
He also said that improvements in less-lethal weapons technology has also increased interest.
“As technology changes, so goes our jobs,” Macksoud said.
The Police Academy is home to a multi-interactive learning objectives use of force simulator known as MILO. The simulator allows officers and police cadets to learn how to respond in different situations, like dealing with people under the influence.
“If we can expose them to the situation, and they’ve seen it before, they’re better equipped to deal with it,” Macksoud said.
Coil said that Shelby Township officers train with lethal and less-lethal weapons at the same time to be able to respond to rapidly changing situations.
“Every time we implement a new tool set, we have to give you a new skill set,” he said. The new shotguns, he said, gave officers “an option not to kill someone.”
According to Coil, using lesslethal weapons is not always an option, though, and police are authorized to use whatever force is necessary to bring people into compliance with the law.
“If you’re armed with a handgun, we’re not going to beanbag you,” he said. “We shoot to eliminate the threat at the time.”
Last November, a Shelby Township man, Kanwarbir Malhi, was shot during an incident with Shelby Township Police and died. According to a press release from the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, Malhi stole his mother’s car, and she reported him to the police. In her complaint, she said Malhi was using illegal narcotics and had made mention of suicide by cop.
According to the press release, while on patrol, a Shelby Township officer found Malhi with the stolen vehicle. Several other officers responded to the scene and gave verbal commands, and Malhi did not comply. Malhi then got out of the car and made movement toward his jacket pocket. When Malhi got out of the vehicle, an officer shot him. During the interaction, Malhi had said he had a gun.
The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate the officer involved in the shooting. The investigation, which concluded earlier this month, determined the officer did nothing wrong.
Coil did not wish to comment on last year’s incident in relation to the new less-lethal weapon system because every situation is different. He did say that the officer’s perception was important.
“If an individual says he’s armed, the officer’s perception is tantamount,” Coil said. “If they make that choice… then they’re going to shoot.”
Coil stressed that officers train to make split-second decisions, and that their goal is to resolve situations without the loss of life, if possible.
“It’s a difficult thing,” he said. “We don’t have a crystal ball… Unfortunately, individuals push the envelope with us and force us to take action.”
Less-lethal weapons give officers more options, but Coil said that, ultimately, they’re not the answer for responding to people using drugs or who are mentally unstable. He said that getting people the help they need was the best way to prevent potentially deadly interactions with police.
The Macomb County program Hope Not Handcuffs allows addicts to go to any police station in the county and submit to treatment.
“Then we don’t end up in a life or death situation,” Coil said.
To learn more about the Hope Not Handcuffs program, visit familiesagainstnarcotics.org/hop enothandcuffs/. To learn more about Shelby Township Police Department services and programs, visit shelbytwp.org/.