Beanbags are wonderful inventions. They make comfortable if kitschy furniture, are a simple toy useful for early childhood development, and of course, are a key component of the addictive but disturbingly named game of cornhole.
One thing beanbags are decidedly not appropriate for is being the primary armament of elite military and police agencies, a self-evident fact to almost everyone.
Late on the night of December 14, an elite tactical unit of the U.S. Border Patrol known as “BORTAC” was working the Peck Canyon, northwest of Nogales. They were hunting a “rip crew” suspected to be operating in the area. A rip crew is a predatory criminal gang that targets drug couriers and illegals being smuggled over the border. They ambush their victims, robbing and assaulting them for their drugs or few possessions, supposing their criminal victims will never report their crimes to authorities.
Using night vision equipment, the BORTAC team spotted five men moving through the Canyon, two of whom were carrying rifles. At least one of the officers identified the men and yelled at them to drop their weapons. Then things went bad:
When the suspected aliens did not drop their weapons, two Border Patrol agents deployed “less than lethal” beanbags at the suspected aliens. At this time, at least one of the suspected aliens fired at the Border Patrol agents. Two Border Patrol agents returned fire, one with his long gun and one with his pistol.
Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot with one bullet and died shortly after. One of the suspected illegal aliens, later identified as Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was also shot.
Yes, you read that correctly. Faced with men using rifles, Border Patrol agents used beanbags. Why? Because of an alleged agency policy that requires engaging armed men with beanbag rounds.
Agency doctrine that all but assured the eventual death of a federal agent. BORTAC agent Brian Terry just happened to be that first unfortunate victim of a policy developed as a combination of bureaucratic ineptitude and feel-good policing mandated by those far from the front line of America’s Third War.
The technology of beanbag rounds are not to blame. Beanbag rounds have been around for a number of years as one of the first iterations of “less lethal” weapons designed to force a criminal suspect’s compliance through the assertion of concussive force. They are fired from designated shotguns that are usually brightly colored so they won’t be confused with shotguns loaded with buckshot or slugs. A shot-filled sock-like projectile is fired at a low velocity of several hundred feet-per-second to deliver a stunning, momentarily incapacitating blow to allow officers to rush in and physically control an uncooperative suspect.
Doctrine has long been that less-lethals are only to be used in very prescribed situations where the subject is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, but is not an immediately direct lethal threat. A good example would be a combative person thought to be under the influence of drugs that does not allow officers to approach within taser range. The beanbag shells themselves have very narrow operating windows or ranges: lower velocity shells are to be used from 5-20 yards, while higher velocity variants of varying designs are tailored to ranges out to 40 yards.
There is one very important caveat to using less-lethal weapons. The standard doctrine for these less-lethal weapons is that they are only to be used in situations where the suspects are not armed with deadly weapons of their own.
The reason is obvious. Filled with less-lethal shells, a shotgun is still unmistakably a shotgun, and when the trigger is pulled, a shotgun blast is heard, a flash and puff of smoke is seen and heard, and the weapon recoils. Any person carrying a weapon and not immediately incapacitated by the less-lethal cartridge itself is likely to judge that their life is in danger and immediately return fire with their own far more lethal firearms.
This confusion was compounded by the fact that the event happened close to midnight; there was absolutely no way for the rip crew to verify they were actually facing off against law enforcement officers and not another rip crew. All they knew is that they were yelled at by men who identified themselves as police, and then those men started shooting at them.
It’s a matter of training. It’s a matter of common sense.
And it’s a matter of near criminal proportions that both long-held and carefully researched doctrine about the use of force was thrown out the window in favor of what was clearly a bureaucratic initiative made by someone hoping to mitigate the political fallout that might occur if Border Patrol agents shot a criminal alien and either killed or seriously wounded him or her.
Border Patrol officials lied at least once about the order to use beanbags in what appears to be an obvious attempt to cover up a lethally poor policy.
Was the policy a result of uniformed agents shooting and killing a rock-throwing Mexican teen in June of 2010? Was it the result of the generally apathetic to hostile feelings towards border security from DHS appointees and the White House itself?
The only appropriate responses are an immediate revocation of the policy before it leads to the death of other Border Patrol agents and an investigation into how the policy came into being and into who was responsible for trying to cover it up and why.