Police Riot Gear, Old and New

The summer of 2020 brought new waves of protests around the world some in cities and countries  that have long known unrest, and some in places unused to such large-scale demonstrations. 

In many of these protests, police responded with excessive force. Footage from these locations, some of which have not previously been well documented by open source researchers, provided an opportunity to study and analyse the weapons used by security forces and expand our digital library.

Some of the weapons employed followed old patterns. Protests resumed in Lebanon after more than 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a port warehouse in Beirut, causing widespread damage and renewing frustration with the government. As we have previously documented, security forces responded with tear gas grenades, most of which were manufactured by SAE Alsetex of France.

This is not surprising. France regularly exports police equipment to its former mandates and colonies. For example, French tear gas has been used this year against protesters in Cote d’Ivoire, where the police use Swiss B&T GL06 grenade launchers to fire the canisters.

[Video credit: Al Jazeera]

France is a serial exporter of tear gas, and a good example of how historical relationships often guide arms sales. These ties can be important, and explain why, for example, police in Belarus have been using Russian equipment to try to stifle protests in Minsk. These KGB Alpha officers are carrying red SV-1319 flash-bang grenades, and the officer on the far right is armed with a Russian GM-94 grenade launcher.

[Photo credit: Getty]

The GM-94 fires 43mm VGM-93 series grenades, such as the 93.200 tear gas rounds pictured below (circled in red). This image, taken by Amnesty International researchers in Minsk, shows other types of less-lethal shotgun ammunition used by Belarussian police, including a variety of kinetic impact projectiles and “old-school” rubber bullets from ТЕХКРИМ and Azot. Interestingly, we also see evidence of 7.62mm blanks, which would have been fired from AK-pattern rifles. Globally, we very rarely see evidence of police using blanks to scare protestors – if officers fire their rifles, “live” ammunition is almost always what’s been loaded.

[Photo credit: Amnesty International]

Lebanon has a long history with France, as Belarus does with Russia, but these historical ties are not always predictive. For example, in the photo above, several KGB Alpha officers are also carrying Italian FABARM and Benelli shotguns, which are used by police forces all over the world. 

And in this summer’s protests in Belgrade, Serbia, we didn’t see Russian arms, as one might expect, but rather Chinese grenade launchers: in this case, from 10 July, a NARG 38.

[Photo credit: Reuters]

Similarly, while in Guinea we often see French products employed, police in Conakry were using Chinese NARG 38s in February of this year.

[Photo credit: Getty]

The same is true in Tunisia, where we saw Spanish Falken FC-822M grenades used in Tataouine in June, rather than French equipment.

[Video credit: Ruptly. Note that Ruptly is a media company funded by the Russian government.]

But sometimes the tear gas used by police forces is homegrown. In Venezuela, the state arms manufacturer Cavim supplies the tear gas grenades used against protestors. And during the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, police overwhelmingly used American products, in particular from Combined Tactical Systems and Defense Technology (a subsidiary of Safariland).   

This was the summer that many Americans heard the term “pepperball” for the first time. The protests that swept the country in May and June were characterized by their breadth, not only geographically, but also by the wide variety of less-lethal weapons used by police, including stinger ball grenades, kinetic impact projectiles, and yes, pepperball guns.

[Photo credit: USA Today]

Defense contractors are always developing new products to expand their business. So what comes next after pepperballs? Watch this space…