Imagine you’re walking down a dark Calgary alleyway with criminal intent.Now imagine you come within spitting distance of a police officer armed with a two-kilogram weapon which looks equal parts grenade launcher and science fiction ray gun.Odds are you stop what you’re doing without the officer firing a shot, right?That’s the goal of the Calgary police’s less-lethal program. And since rolling out the first of 80 ARWEN ACE-T less lethal launcher systems to frontline officers last year, deputy chief Ray Robitaille said many potentially deadly incidents are stopped before escalating into dangerous territory.“The deployment of them, in and of itself, has a considerable deterrent effect and will de-escalate,” Robitaille said. “So we won’t have to use any force for a person to make a decision that it’s probably in their best interest to follow the directions of the police officers who are looking at a peaceful resolution.”From July to December 2018, frontline Calgary police officers deployed ARWEN launchers a total of 13 times during police incidents, with only three of those deployments ending in the weapon being fired.That’s more than the combined use of ARWEN devices between 2013 and 2017, according to data compiled in last year’s independent use of force review by retired Alberta chief justice Neil Wittmann, which saw the weapons deployed on nine occasions.“We call that the impact method,” Robitaille said.ARWEN launchers were also deployed another four times during the same period last year by members of the police tactical team. The service did not release details on whether the weapon was fired during those tactical calls.
Some Calgary police officers will be issued ARWEN ACE-T launchers, which fire “less lethal” plastic rounds.
Anna Junker / Postmedia
Calgary Postmedia writer Anna Junker handles and later deploys the ARWEN ACE-T device during a media demonstration by Calgary Police Service in Calgary on Thursday, June 28, 2018. The CPS are launching a patrol Less Lethal program in order to provide frontline officers with an additional tool to help safely resolve high-risk, critical incidents. Jim Wells/Postmedia
The single-shot 37mm ARWEN is a riot-control weapon that fires a plastic round at 74 metres per second, depending on the type of ammunition used.Robitaille said it can be effectively fired at a distance of about 23 metres away from a target, giving officers a much greater bubble of protection compared to other less-lethal devices, like a conducted energy weapon, also known as a Taser.Robitaille said 160 frontline officers will finish training on the weapon system by the end of the year. And while the fearsome-looking launcher has proven an efficient deterrent, it isn’t 100 per cent effective.Related
Last year, before the less-lethal program came online, a woman was shot and killed by tactical officers after a break-and-enter in the northeast community of Penbrooke.An ARWEN was fired during the incident where multiple offenders were found barricaded inside a home.Robitaille said an ARWEN deployment is always partnered with “a secondary backup officer” carrying a firearm as officers are “dealing with a high-risk situation” where there is a very real threat of “serious bodily harm or death.”RRumbolt@postmedia.comOn Twitter: @RCRumbolt