It's a frightening call for any officer. A man waves a knife, daring police to come and get him. Too many steps forward, and the officer's life is in jeopardy. Not close enough, and officers are left in a standoff with no end in sight.
But police may soon reach for a small gun on their belt that, instead of bullets, fires a Taser blast so strong the suspect crumples into a fetal position.
Earlier forms of the Tasers were snickered at by most police agencies for being ineffective. But this one packs a powerful punch, can be fired from more than 20 feet away and the effects completely disappear in a few seconds, authorities say.
And this 21st century weapon is already on the belts of several officers in Ventura County.
Authorities say advances in technology have finally created nonlethal weapons that are better, faster and more effective. And local law enforcers are already putting the new arsenal to the test, hoping to make it a permanent part of their efforts to fight crime.
"The days of shooting at a suspect as he runs away are over," said Ed Ludaescher, a retired Oxnard officer who created the Options Gun, a weapon that gives officers a choice of firing bullets or pepper spray.
The police departments in Oxnard and Ventura and the county Sheriff's Department have assigned officers to research the latest less-than-lethal tools on the market. The goal: find a weapon that will disable a threatening suspect without causing permanent injury or death.
Easier said than done, the experts say.
It's not good enough for something to be partially effective, said Sid Heal, a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and considered a leader in the state on researching less-than-lethal technology. In a life or death situation, a weapon has to work, he said. Every time.
"Street cops are pragmatists," Heal said. "If it doesn't work, he doesn't want it. So he's left reaching for his firearm."
Interest in less-than-lethal weaponry began about 30 years ago, spurred in part by the rampant increase in drug use, authorities said. Suspects high on drugs were combative, aggressive, unpredictable and had a high tolerance for pain.
Heal mentioned how suspects high on PCP would seem almost impervious to pain. "How do you apprehend someone like that? Is shooting them your only option?" he asked.
Early experiments went poorly, with many of the devices resembling rejects from a bad "Batman" episode.
There were the guns that shot giant nets over suspects. Those were sloppy and rarely stopped a flailing bad guy.
And then came "the chain"--literally an 8-foot chain with two long poles on each end. With an officer gripping each pole, they charged after a suspect, hoping to knock him down. It was crude and mostly ineffective.
"Yeah, it wasn't used much," said Heal, chuckling. "Because if he got away, then you're standing there armed with a pole."
Then the late 1970s brought a seeming breakthrough for law enforcement--the Taser, a small gun that shot electrical pulses from as far as 10 feet. The jolt was supposed to be strong enough to stop a suspect cold by temporarily overtaking his muscular system. And it worked. Sometimes.
Other times, a charging suspect just kept coming.
The failures came at a time when a U.S. Supreme Court decision radically changed law enforcement procedures. In 1974, Memphis police fatally shot a 15-year-old boy as he ran from a burglary that netted him $10. The case resulted in a 1985 ruling that called firing at a fleeing felon an unreasonable use of force.
"Times have changed," said Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Wade, who works with the department's Less-Lethal Team, a group of 12 SWAT team deputies trained to use alternative weaponry.
"The public has become harder on us, and they should," Wade said. "They should expect more. And we are trying to live up to that expectation."
By 1986 the Department of Justice established a less-than-lethal technology program, dedicated to the development of such weapons.
Today, local authorities say less-lethal tools are a requirement for any modern law enforcement agency.
"Anybody who isn't researching this area ought to be," said Oxnard Police Cmdr. Mike Matlock, who researches such equipment for his department.
Matlock said it wasn't until about four years ago that Oxnard began exploring the latest technology.
"We weren't on the cutting edge at all," he said. "It wasn't until we saw the successes of other departments that we started to look at it seriously. Now, we don't wait around."
Police can't afford to wait. There are more mentally ill people on the street, more domestic violence calls, and more people intent on goading police into shooting them, a phenomenon known as "suicide by cop."
To deal with such calls, local authorities today employ a variety of nonlethal weaponry, hoping to control their suspects without killing or seriously injuring them.