Dallas Police to Introduce Less Lethal "Sponge Guns" This Summer

They aren't NERF guns, but the "sponge guns" the Dallas Police Department will get aren't lethal either — or mostly not lethal, rather.

DPD Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner introduced the guns Thursday at the Safer Dallas Better Dallas meeting a police headquarters. They've got a 14-inch barrel, shoot 40 mm rounds of hardened foam and are capable of disabling suspects rather than killing them — assuming they hit their target.

"So, your watching baseball, and a batter gets hit with a 95 mph fastball. If they're struck up in their arm or something like that, many times the batter will just kinda cringe and stay in the box, but if they get hit in a soft part — you know like in their kidney or their abdomen or they're even hit in their hip — they go down. That's exactly what we're doing," Cotner said.

Starting this summer, DPD will roll out 100 of the sponge guns, Cotner said. The guns have an effective range of more than 100 feet, making them an alternative to the department's current less-lethal alternative, Tasers.

"They're going to be down for this very brief amount of time. That will allow an arrest team that we're going to have in place with these less-lethal teams to go up and make a safe arrest.

According to the Marshall Project, the guns cost between $350 and $1,200 each. Each of the foam rounds used in the guns costs about $25. They are most useful, the criminal justice journalism organization says, when officers are "subduing a potentially violent suspect from a distance and when the officer has time to get a large, specialized weapon out of the trunk."

Because of the size of the guns and the size of rounds they fire, sponge guns are not effective when fired from a short distance. Even at longer distances, they pose risks. If they hit someone in the head, neck or chest, sponge gun rounds can be lethal.

The total cost for the project, estimated at about $225,000, is expected to be covered by Safer Dallas Better Dallas, a charitable group that's supported Dallas police for more than 10 years. 

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young