Jun. 9, 2020

The phrases “Non-Lethal” and “Less Lethal” are used by law enforcement and military agencies worldwide. But what exactly does each phrase mean? Are these phrases interchangeable or apply to different products?

The Difference Between Less Lethal and Non-Lethal

The answer is surprisingly simple: there is no force option that is completely non-lethal.

One of the best definitions of less lethal is “any use of force other than that which is considered deadly force that involves physical effort to control, restrain, or overcome the resistance of another.” ¹ This definition encompasses force such as an officer’s manual restraint, electronic control weapons, aerosol spray and impact projectiles.

However, you may be wondering how these tools are designed to overcome a subject rather than cause harm, why they are specifically called “less lethal” instead of “non-lethal”.

Think about physical restraint. If you tackle a suspect and handcuff them, if done wrong or if the subject has a pre-existing medical condition, it could kill them. Or if you try to gain control over a situation by using OC spray and the subject suffers an allergic reaction, it could kill them.

This same concept applies to TASERs, batons and so forth. While these instances are extremely miniscule, the possibility still exists. From a legal standpoint, it is safer and smarter to refer to these tools as “less lethal” rather than placing them in the “non-lethal” category.

However, these examples barely scratch the surface of less-lethal tools. According to the National Institute of Justice², there are seven types of less lethal device technologies:

• Conducted Energy Devices—encompasses TASERs, stun guns and stun belts
• Directed Energy Devices—radiated energy to achieve same effect as blunt force, with lower likelihood of injury
• Chemicals—pepper spray (OC), tear gas and stink bombs
• Distraction—laser dazzlers, bright lights or noise
• Vehicle-Stopping Technology—equipment that stops cars during high-speed chases
• Barriers—nets, foams and other physical barriers
• Blunt Force—projectiles in crowd-control to deter certain actions

Each tool is designed to mitigate harm while allowing law enforcement to gain control over a situation. Depending on agency policy and the unique situation, officers may choose which less lethal tool to utilize.

Non-Lethal Verbiage

You may still be wondering about agencies that use the phrase “non-lethal”. The only organization that consistently uses that phrase is the military³. This is due to the terminology describing certain categories of weapons. While there is no clear policy as to why this phrase is used primarily over others, it could possibly be due to the nature of their missions.

How VirTra Trains with Less Lethal

VirTra’s judgmental use of force simulators are designed to train using the entire use of force spectrum. Officers are encouraged to start with de-escalation to “stabilize the situation and reduce the immediacy of the threat” ¹ without the use of force.

However, certain subjects may not comply or situations may hinder de-escalation tactics. In these cases, officers may react with the next best option: less lethal.

The less lethal tools provided to officers depends on the agency, though they most likely include TASERs, OC and similar. Knowing this, VirTra designed less lethal accessories that are compatible with the simulator, allowing trainees and seasoned officers alike to train with all the tools found in their duty belt at the same time.


VirTra offers two different TASER training tools: the V-TX2 and V-X26P (T7 is in development). These products are drop-in replacements for the Axon TASER X2 and X26P, respectively. The cartridge probes allow for precise aiming and realistic targeting within the system, while providing proper form fit without modification to live TASER handles. In regards to the scenario, subjects who are hit with a TASER react accordingly, for the most realistic training possible.

OC Spray

While the TASER training options are drop-in replacements for duty TASERs, the OC training device is different. Instead, this device is a separate tool created by VirTra. While it is not a drop-in replacement, the accessory is still placed in a SABRE® MK3 OC canister, with proper activation button pressure and proper weight for maximum realism while mitigating training scars. Similar to TASERs, on-screen subjects react accordingly when hit with OC spray.

VirTra offers a variety of other less lethal training accessories to maximize training sessions, including impact munitions and 12g, 37mm and 40mm. For more information about each accessory, please contact a VirTra representative.

  1. IACP. National Consensus Policy and Discussion Paper on Use of Force. IACP, October 2017
  2. National Institute of Justice, “Overview of Less-Lethal Technologies,” June 1, 2011, nij.ojp.gov: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/overview-less-lethal-technologies
  3. “Non Lethal or Less Lethal: What is the Difference? SDI” SDI | Security Devices Intl., 21 Sept. 2016, securitydii.com/non-lethal-less-lethal/

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