Police using net, 'beanbag' gun on suspects to avoid lethal force

October 02, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police have a new weapon to help subdue dangerous people without shooting them.

In addition to a "beanbag" gun used to disable armed suspects that was used for the first time last month, the Police Department now has a 12-foot-square net to cast over suspects.

It's not quite Spiderman shooting a web from his wrist, but officers used the device for the first time last week to capture a distraught woman who was reaching for a butcher's knife.

"We were happy with the result," said Maj. Bert L. Shirey, commander of the tactical section. "We're still experimenting with it to see what situations it can be used in, but we prefer this to deadly force."

The device is a small cylinder that resembles a wand. An officer aims it and presses a button. The folded net is ejected and spreads over the target. It has a range of 15 feet to 18 feet.

The issue of less-lethal force was highlighted after a controversial shooting Aug. 9 outside Lexington Market in West Baltimore. As a bystander videotaped the confrontation, Officer Charles M. Smothers II fatally shot James Quarles, 22, after Quarles refused to obey repeated demands to drop a knife. Smothers was cleared of criminal responsibility but faces an internal review.

One of the issues police are studying in the six-minute confrontation in the Quarles case was whether police had time to call tactical officers, who are the only officers who have the "beanbag" gun -- which fires a bag of lead pellets -- and the net. Both devices were acquired before the shooting.

In the most recent case, police said they responded Friday to a report of a 60-year-old mentally ill woman who had assaulted her apartment building manager and barricaded herself in a room in the 1400 block of N. Carey St. in West Baltimore.

Tactical officers forced their way into the building and sprayed the woman with tear gas as she went to a kitchen. Police said the chemical spray had no effect.

Police fired the net as the woman ran to a back bedroom with her hands in her purse. Police said that after the woman was subdued, they found a butcher's knife in the purse. The woman was not charged but was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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