Bean bags fired by police can cause range of serious injuries, study finds

Wednesday, October 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Beanbags fired by police to stun suspects can cause a variety of serious injuries, even death, according to the most comprehensive medical review yet of the effects of the weapon.

Police consider beanbags a non-lethal alternative to bullets. But the small bags filled with lead pellets can cause significant damage when striking any part of the body, the study found.

The study looked at 40 shootings by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They included cases in which beanbags penetrated the eye, chest, abdomen and leg of suspects, and others in which spleens were ruptured and internal organs damaged.

One death from internal bleeding was reported. The person had been hit in the chest by a beanbag.

``The main reason the paper was written was to alert our colleagues in the emergency room that this weapon is capable of causing major traumatic insult or injury,'' said co-author Dr. Kathryn Challoner, a specialist in emergency medicine at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

Police defended the use of beanbags, saying they present a less deadly choice than bullets.

``If it's someone we can't approach or he's violent and wants to fight, it's much safer for us and safer for the patient to use the non-lethal weapon,'' said Deputy David Cervantes.

The study was based on data collected between January 1996 and February 2000. Published in the October issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine, it's the first time researchers have documented the beanbag injuries of more than a single person.

Each beanbag weighs about 1.4 ounces. When fired from a conventional shotgun, it can pack the energy of a baseball line drive or a punch from a professional boxer, said Michael Keith, president of MK Ballistic Systems, a manufacturer of the specialized ammunition. The bags are used in all 50 states and at least 10 countries.

When fired from 30 to 75 feet, beanbags produce bruises, abrasions, minor lacerations and, under some circumstances, broken bones, Keith said. Drop the distance to 20 feet or less and the seriousness of the injury increases.

In some of the cases studied, victims had been fired upon from as close as 8 feet away.

``If a round is fired at an exceedingly close range, you can get penetrations,'' Keith said.