less-than-lethal | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Policing

Less-than-lethal refers to weapons or tactics that are designed to incapacitate or immobilize a person without causing death or serious bodily harm.

In our daily lives, we might encounter various situations that require intervention, but not all situations call for severe measures. This is where less-than-lethal weapons and tactics come into play. They provide law enforcement, military, and other security personnel with a middle ground. They serve to neutralize a potential threat without resorting to deadly force.

Where Less-Than-Lethal Options are Used

These non-lethal options can be found everywhere, from small towns to large cities, and in various organizations. Police departments use them to control situations that could escalate but aren’t dangerous enough to require lethal force. Military units use them in scenarios where the goal is to immobilize rather than kill. Even security guards at venues and events might use less-than-lethal options to manage conflicts effectively.

Types of Less-Than-Lethal Weapons

There’s a wide range of less-than-lethal weapons. These include pepper spray, a substance that irritates the eyes and respiratory system; stun guns, devices that disrupt a person’s control over their muscles; and tasers, tools that send electric shocks to temporarily paralyze a person. Rubber bullets and bean bag rounds can also be used. These projectiles, while painful, are designed to minimize lasting harm.

Potential Risks of Less-Than-Lethal Weapons

Even though these weapons aim to cause less harm, they still carry risks. When misused or used excessively, they can cause severe injuries or even death. Think of them as tools. If a tool is used correctly, it serves its purpose. If used incorrectly, it can cause damage.

Protocols and Guidelines for Use

Due to these potential risks, there are strict rules in place for using less-than-lethal options. These rules are like a playbook for law enforcement and other security personnel. They detail when and how to use these weapons to ensure that they serve their purpose without causing unnecessary harm. By following these rules, those in control of these weapons can minimize risks and protect everyone involved.


In conclusion, less-than-lethal weapons and tactics provide a way to control potentially dangerous situations without resorting to deadly force. They are used across various organizations and come in many forms. While they carry risks, these can be managed through the proper use and adherence to strict guidelines. Ultimately, understanding less-than-lethal options is crucial for both those who use them and those who may encounter them.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/29/2023

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