Lethbridge Police Service Converts Shotguns into New, Less-Lethal Tool for Frontline Officers

The Lethbridge Police Service has equipped its frontline officers with less-lethal shotguns to help de-escalate high-risk situations and maximize the potential for a safe outcome.
The Lethbridge Police Service has equipped its frontline officers with less-lethal shotguns to help de-escalate high-risk situations and maximize the potential for a safe outcome.

In late 2015, LPS re-purposed its Remington 870 shotguns to fire soc rounds instead of bullets after a gap in force options was identified following several incidents where police were called to deal with armed individuals suffering from a mental health crisis.

In all three cases, the subjects were taken safely into custody, but in the debrief sessions that followed it became clear to Chief Rob Davis that they could have ended very differently.

“The ideal would be to resolve all incidents without force,” said Chief Rob Davis. “But in a situation when force becomes necessary and it’s available and appropriate to use less-lethal force that results in the public being safe, our officers being safe and the subject safely taken into custody, that’s a successful outcome.”

A number of years ago LPS, like many other agencies across the country, transitioned from shotguns to carbine rifles and the old shotguns have simply been sitting in storage.

“It just made sense to repurpose the 870s as a less-lethal option and make them accessible to the frontline where they need to be,” said Davis, noting the minimal investment was well worth making to potentially save lives.

Prior to the conversion, a less-lethal shotgun was only immediately available to the frontline if a Tactical Team officer was on shift.

A soc round is a small, bean-bag like projectile that is targeted at the lower abdomen, legs and lower arms to reduce the potential for serious injury or death. A training course, including both classroom and hard skills components, was developed and delivered to all officers prior to issuing the less-lethal shotguns. The barrels of the shotguns have also been painted bright yellow so they are easily discernable and can’t be mistaken for anything else.

“In my view there was a gap in options between Conducted Energy Weapons and lethal force available to frontline officers and this addresses that gap,” said Davis. “The accessibility of less-lethal shotguns gives the frontline more options and options drive strategies in reasonable officer response.”

Davis adds the use of soc round shotguns is not intended to replace firearms, nor do they change the traditional force paradigm, but in situations where time and distance permits, they can significantly reduce the potential for serious injuries or death for all parties involved.

LPS strives to be a leader in the implementation and use of less-lethal force options and more than a decade ago became the first Alberta police service to add less-lethal capability to its Tactical Team with the addition of an Arwen.

In 2012, two members received specialized training from the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team, which was established in 1988 following an officer-involved shooting of a man suffering from severe mental illness. Part of the training included the use of impact projectile weapons as a less-lethal force option, particularly when dealing with individuals in an emotional crisis. In-house CIT training was subsequently developed and delivered to all LPS officers to enhance police response to situations involving mental health issues.

LPS is keenly aware that over the past decade police have become first responders with respect to individuals suffering from mental health issues and is committed to continuing to explore new opportunities and identifying best practices to help ensure the safest response possible for all involved.

LPS training emphasizes the importance and role of communication and de-escalation, allowing time for more options to become available as a viable course of action.

A story about LPS and its re-purposed shotguns was recently featured in Blue Line, a national policing magazine.