Looking for alternatives to lethal force, Ferguson, Mo., assistant police chief Al Eickhoff found on the Internet a California website offering the “Alternative,” what the Washington Post calls “an odd-looking, blaze-orange device docked on a normal handgun barrel. When a bullet fired, it melded with an attached projectile the size of a ping-pong ball that flew with enough force to knock a person down, maybe break some ribs, but not kill him … even at close range.”
This week, five Ferguson police instructors will train to use the device; the department plans to introduce it to the entire force of 55 officers. The Alternative is the latest in a growing inventory of less-than-lethal police weapons, including the Taser, bean-bag-loaded shotguns, pepper-filled pellets, rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades, that officers reach for to minimize the chances of killing people. The Alternative is meant for that time when officers decide, often in a split second, that they must shoot someone to protect themselves or others. Some consider it dangerous because officers must take time to remove it from their belts and affix it to a service weapon. That “exposes police officers to greater risk” and “turns policy on its head,” said Steve Ijames, a former Springfield, Mo., police major and training expert.