SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department has unveiled a tool officers can use to deescalate volatile situations more safely.
The department recently acquired 85 "less-lethal shotguns." They are marked in orange and instead of shooting bullets, they fire small sacks filled with pellets.
“Our hope in any scenario where we have to use force is that we are able to use the least amount possible,” SLCPD Sgt. Keith Horrocks said Monday.
The less-lethal guns are described as blunt force trauma tools that can be used in situations like calls of a suicidal person with a knife or for crowd control in a riot.
They are not replacing the traditional weapons of law enforcement.
“Is this appropriate for a lethal force situation — where it’s clearly a lethal force situation, where somebody has a gun and has the ability to deploy on our officers? It probably isn’t,” Horrocks said.
He added these guns are not being introduced in response to recent protests and calls for police reform. The process to get them has been two years in the making.
“Anything you see going forward now at this point and time would indicate police reform,” Horrocks said. “That’s what we are trying to accomplish with that. This is not necessarily one of those things, but it checks that box.”
Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, sees this as a sign of progress.
“It makes me emotional. We have to celebrate the small wins. We have to celebrate the small wins because we get so very few,” she said. “This country is a tinder box right now. It’s a powder keg right now. The more wins we can get, the more calm we can get.”
Scott meets with SLCPD leadership on a monthly basis. She believes police are listening to calls for change.
“I think the protests started a nationwide dialogue about police reform and made it more acceptable to talk about police reform and say, 'Yes, some changes can be made here,'” Scott said.
Other advocates for police reform aren’t as optimistic.
“It feels like they are adding to their arsenal to be used during protests. I don’t see the field use of tools like this. I only see them as crowd suppression tools,” said David Cacanindin, a member of Utah Against Police Brutality.
Cacanindin, who works as an occupational therapist, says these less-lethal weapons can cause long-term damage and do not address the broader issue he sees with law enforcement tactics.
“In my work, I have to help people who are broken, maimed and disabled by police get rehabilitated back to the point that they can function as best they can in life,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking work when a police interaction is the cause of a person’s permanent disability.”
SLCPD says officers who carry this less-lethal shotgun are trained to avoid the head and groin areas of the body and instead focus on targets like arms or thighs.
The department hopes to eventually acquire 100 of these guns. Currently, several officers on each shift have access to the less-lethal weapon.