St. Paul police officers who encounter someone who is armed with a knife or bat and acting aggressively have a new way to respond, reports the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. The police department has begun a pilot program of PepperBall. An officer uses a launcher, which looks like a handgun with orange along the top, to shoot a powder with a similar effect as pepper spray. But while a presidential task force on 21st-century policing recently recommended law enforcement agencies use “less than lethal” technology, PepperBall can be controversial. Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said she believes St. Paul should focus instead on using trained crisis responders, such as a program in Eugene, Ore., that provides mobile crisis intervention around the clock. St. Paul police say they’re also working on the mental health front.
After researching PepperBall since last February, the first officers began carrying it on Friday. For the next two to three months, about 100 officers in St. Paul’s Central District will have access to PepperBall. The St. Paul Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the police department, provided $50,000 for the project. The police department spent about $25,000 for 50 PepperBall devices and equipment for the pilot program.