Fort Worth

Fort Worth police explore kinder, gentler weapons (like bean bags)

Brandon Ishmael screamed at police, begging them to kill him.

Ishmael shot at Fort Worth police, set a house in the 300 block of Haltom Road on fire, then ran outside and jumped in a ditch overgrown with grass. As officers approached Ishmael could be heard yelling, “Get back, get back,” and then, “shoot me, shoot me,” police said.

“We declined,” said Sgt. Paul Genualdo, a Fort Worth SWAT officer involved in Ishmael’s arrest on Oct. 7. “Initially, me and another officer both had rifles pointed at him but we did not engage.”

What officers did then was shoot Ishmael, 30, with more than one 40mm foam round, a large, soft-tipped, bullet-shaped projectile — basically foam bullets —designed to hurt, but not kill. Soon after being hit, Ishmael emerged from his hiding place with his hands up, Genualdo said.

“It provides us with the resources to take a person into custody without having to deploy a lethal weapon,” Genualdo said. “Our goal is to always take people into custody, safely. And that includes bad guys.”

In Fort Worth, only SWAT officers have access to this weapon, but police are considering making similar less-than-lethal options available to about 70 patrol supervisors. One such weapon is a shotgun that fires bean-bag rounds, officials said.

“We are currently looking for funding to place less-than-lethal options with our patrol officers as well,” said Marc Povero, police spokesman. “We are seriously trying to find the funds to get these in the field this fiscal year.”

In a challenging time for police departments nationwide because of questions surrounding the fatal shootings by police, spurring the Black Lives Matter movement, less-than-lethal options for police officers are being given close scrutiny. According to The Washington Post database, 770 people have been fatally shot by officers nationwide this year (as of 11 a.m. Wednesday). The total tally for 2015 is more than 980 deaths, according to the database.

The less-than-lethal weapons are not an answer to the immediate threat of deadly force, Genualdo said. They are an added expense, require training and they do not always work. Officers using less-than-lethal options are required to have another officer backing them up with firearms, Genualdo said.

“You have to have sufficient time, distance and tactical advantage to employ these,” he said. “Normally we will employ one of these as part of a plan to take someone into custody without employing lethal force.”

SWAT members use the Penn Arms 40 mm multi-launcher, which cost about $3,000. The foam rounds used to subdue Ishmael cost about $30 each and have a range of about 100 feet, according to Genualdo.

The bean-bag rounds are fired from a 12-gauge Remington 870 shotgun which can be retrofitted to fire the specialized ammunition, Genualdo said, and are typically listed at about $300. The rounds have a range of about 50 feet, Genualdo said.

The less-than-lethal ammunition can kill if the circumstances are right, Genualdo said. Officers are trained to aim for large muscle groups, avoiding the suspect’s eyes, head, groin and chest, Genualdo said.

“None of these are going to knock anyone over,” Genualdo said. “The idea is to cause a reasonable amount of pain, enough to override someone who is intoxicated or on drugs. The idea is to get compliance.”

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3