On January 3, 1979, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department went to the home of Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother. The police were there because of a dispute over an unpaid gas bill. The officers approached her, and Love allegedly threatened them with a knife. They fired twelve times and killed her.
The killing led the department to research non-lethal weapons to see if there was some alternative that would reduce the LAPD’s reliance on guns. Daryl Gates, the Police Chief at the time, told the L.A. Times, “What we need is that thing used in Buck Rogers… to zap’em, freeze’em, stop’em.”
After several years of development, an engineer named Jack Cover invented a weapon to do just that, one he designed to be non-lethal. He named it after a science fiction novel from his childhood called “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”