To Protect and Flatten

The weapon du jour of South Florida cops is the Sage SL-6, a gun that shoots big rubber bullets that hurt like hell but don't kill. They hope.

Among the most antiquated of "less lethal" weapons is the flying beanbag, a shotgun-fired projectile that has been a part of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department's arsenal for the last decade. Pullen says his department has used the nylon bags filled with pebbles only twice, neither time to great effect. A few years ago, in the most recent instance, Pullen and a team of officers came upon a man sitting on his front porch, slicing into his arms with a butcher knife. "We fired one beanbag round," recalls Pullen. "It didn't incapacitate him, he didn't drop the knife, and we still had to struggle with him."

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department's first experience with the Sage earlier this summer went far more smoothly. Pullen and a group of officers responded to another knife-wielder who had barricaded himself inside his home. When they burst through the sliding glass doors, Pullen fired a Sage round into the man's abdomen and a second one just below the first, into his thigh. "He walked away with bruises," says Pullen, explaining that the injuries brought on by a Sage strike are the same as those incurred by a hefty whack with a baton.

Rubber bullets are not only more effective and accurate than their beanbag counterparts, they have also proven less deadly. In one instance last year, Canadian police officers in Ottawa came upon a bloody, knife-wielding, suicidal man howling wildly and waving the blade. The beanbag they fired at his chest didn't incapacitate him -- it killed him. The bag broke the skin and became lodged in his heart. In February the Ottawa police department switched to Sages.

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