Bean bag shotguns provide alternative to lethal force for Round Lake Park police
Beginning this week, Round Lake Park police will have access to a new piece of equipment intended to prevent the use of deadly force.
By midweek, all sworn officers will have been trained and certified on the use of shotguns that fire bean bags to be used in certain situations to stop rather than kill a person.
Besides collapsible batons, Tasers and pepper spray, police will have access to shotguns that fire bean bag rounds not meant to penetrate. Officers have been trained to target large muscle groups to stop a person, Chief George Filenko said.
"The bean bags guns are used in specific situations and provide an officer with a valuable tool that can be used to avoid a lethal response," Filenko said. "This is a great option especially when you have time and can control" a given situation, he added.
That's what happened in late September, when a suicidal man with a knife approached police and asked to be shot.
In that instance, a Round Lake Beach police officer trained in using a bean bag shotgun was called to assist. While three bean bag shots did not take down the man, the situation was defused without serious injury, Filenko said.
Round Lake Beach has had the less lethal shotguns for more than 10 years, according to Deputy Chief Michael Scott. Former Sgt. Tim Mitsven, one of the instructors there who helped write the policy for their use, recently retired from the department and now works as an officer with Round Lake Park.
Filenko said Round Lake Park had been moving toward using bean bag shotguns at the time of the September encounter.
"I'm completely sold on the idea," he said.
"You don't wake one day expecting to use deadly force -- it just happens," he added.
A bean bag round is a small fabric pillow filled with lead shot that weighs about 1.4 ounces, Filenko said. It's designed to cause minimum long-term trauma and results in a muscle spasm to stop a potentially violent person.
"With so many controversial shooting deaths involving law enforcement personnel, a growing number of law enforcement agencies are looking for ways to eliminate fatal encounters between officers and citizens," Filenko said.
Lake County sheriff's police have specially trained deputies, primarily tactical team officers, who carry 12-gauge shotguns that fire bean bags and equipment to fire foam and rubber tipped rounds, as well as canisters of liquid irritants through windows, according to Sgt. Christopher Covelli.
A bean bag shotgun was last used in May 2018, when a man threatening his family dropped a knife after being shot with a bean bag. He was taken for a mental health evaluation, Covelli said.
Bean bag shotguns have been available for about a year to specially trained officers in Waukegan, Lake County's largest city, Cmdr. Joe Florip said.