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Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies now have a new tool allowing them more opportunity to de-escalate a situation without the use of lethal force.
Sheriff William Honsal recently enacted a new plan to outfit all Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars with less lethal shotguns, firearms that shoot bean bag rounds instead of traditional ammunition. Traditional less lethal tools already carried by deputies, such as a baton, taser and OC spray, require a close range for successful use, increasing danger and decreasing time for de-escalation. While sheriff’s deputies in supervisory roles already carried less lethal projectile devices, the expansion of the tool to all patrol staff gives deputies an immediate option for de-escalation.
“In any critical incident, time and distance is a necessity for the safety of our deputies and the public. Very rarely if someone is charging at us do we get a second chance,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. “So, what a less lethal shotgun does is it gives us the ability to have more time and distance between us and the subject we’re trying to communicate with and de-escalate.”
While the less lethal shotguns are a “new” tool, they are not a new purchase. The shotguns are actually the Remington 870 shotguns previously carried in deputy patrol cars, however, they have been repurposed to discharge bean bag rounds instead of traditional ammunition.
“It doesn’t cost the county a whole lot of money to repurpose the old patrol shotguns. They fit in the same mounts in all the patrol vehicles,” Sheriff Honsal said. “We have painted the buttstock and foregrip orange and there will only be less lethal rounds carried with the shotgun in the patrol cars. So, we’re doing this for really next to nothing and equipping every one of our deputies with an option for less lethal force.”
Sheriff Honsal says the use of the less-lethal shotgun is situational, as each incident requiring de-escalation is unique. Deputies have received training on de-escalation and crisis intervention, but Sheriff Honsal says the choice to de-escalate is ultimately that of the person in crisis. If other traditional de-escalation techniques fail, the less lethal firearm can assist in gaining compliance before the situation escalates further.
“It could be someone that is suicidal, someone that has an edged weapon or some kind of an impact weapon. When we have time and distance, we can talk to them and try to get them to put the weapon down,” Sheriff Honsal said. “But if they decide not to, when they charge toward a citizen or a deputy sheriff, then we have the ability to discharge a less lethal shotgun to try and get compliance with a subject before he gets close enough to hurt someone.”
Deputies have and will continue to receive training on the less lethal shotgun and force options throughout the year. They will be required to qualify with it once a year to ensure they are able to appropriately deploy the bean bag rounds when reasonable to do so. In addition to the new tool, the Sheriff’s Office continues to explore other less lethal options to aid in de-escalation and create safer interactions for both deputies and the community.