After the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence suggested that the government work with private industry to speed the development of an effective nonlethal weapon, one of the steps taken by law enforcement agencies was the use of cattle prods. The commission's stance was reported incorrectly in yesterday's Washington Business.
Innovators in Florida and Texas say that they are offering law enforcement agencies new means of bringing unruly people under control without harming them.
The Nova XR-5000 by Nova Technologies of Austin, Tex., is a battery-powered device about the size of a pocket pager that can disable an attacker by temporarily interrupting control of the voluntary muscles.
Meanwhile, Universal Safety Corp. of Largo, Fla., is selling a combination high-intensity flashlight and battery-powered disabler called The Source, and says more than 17,000 are in use by authorized security guards and law enforcement agencies, including the Montgomery County, Md., police department.
Both companies consider their products safer and more effective defensive weapons than guns, batons or cattle prods.
Nova Technologies has been selling its XR-5000 since spring to law enforcement agencies and the public through a mail-order catalogue and through distributors, none of whom operate in this area. The suggested price of $69.95 does not include the rechargable 9-volt nickel-cadmium battery.
James McCourt, Nova's executive director, said the XR-5000 had its origin in recommendations by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence that the government work with industry to speed development of an effective nonlethal weapon.
Cattle prods, one of the alternatives the commission suggested, caused severe pain and skin burns. They got a bad name when they were used during civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s, McCourt said. The Taser, another nonlethal weapon, delivered disabling shocks by firing a projectile attached by wires to the power source. The projectiles had to be removed surgically, and there was the danger of blinding.
The Nova uses a transformer to magnify an ordinary battery's nine volts by a factor of 5,000 and to cut the number of amps to 0.00006. An electrical wave is created that tells the muscles to contract and relax so rapidly that they soon are too tired to function. The device immobilizes an individual for an average of 10 minutes, though a person may be incapacitated for as few as two minutes or as long as 20. Patent applications are pending.
McCourt acknowledged that a device such as the XR-5000 could be used by a criminal, but said the victim would be less severely injured than if shot, knifed or hit with a blunt object.
The other defensive weapon, The Source, "touches the body with an electronic jolt for less than a thousandth of a second," according to Universal Safety Corp.'s president, James A. Smith, who is also assistant chief of police and director of training for the Lake Charles, La., police department. "The wave enters the body and makes the person move away. . . . It's like a severe bee sting."
"I've been a defensive tactics instructor," Smith said. "About eight years ago, I said there has to be something better" than batons, cattle prods or other electronic weapons. He worked with electricians and engineers for more than five years to develop The Source.
"We have had roughly 50 out in the field" for about a year, said Sgt. John Becraft, who is in charge of supplies for the Montgomery County Police Department. "We're not that impressed with it." Becraft said some officers were not pleased with the product's flashlight function, others feel the batteries don't meet expectations or the device itself is ineffective. Smith suggested the problems might stem from improper use or training.
On the other hand, Universal Safety quotes an officer from the San Marcos, Tex., police department who says he was able to use the weapon to disarm a 6-foot-3 suspect who was threatening to shoot the policeman and his partners.