St. Paul Police piloting the use of non-lethal 'PepperBall'

The St. Paul Police Department is hoping a new tool can help prevent deadly encounters.

Called "PepperBall" the program employs the use of guns that shoot out pepper balls. Officers have to be about 20 feet away from the target to use a Taser, but with this new non-lethal tool, they can be 60 feet away to deescalate a dangerous situation.

“Most of the officers will be deploying with a bag like this,” said Commander Kurt Hallstrom.

St. Paul Officers already have a handful of tools in their toolbox.

“I’m going to make an announcement, ‘Sir, drop the bat or I’m going to use force,’” Hallstrom demonstrated.

But the newest addition takes aim at reducing the use of deadly force in situations where it’s not necessarily needed.

The Department started a pilot program for about 100 officers in the central district to use pepper ball last Friday.

The launchers look like pistols and shoot marble-sized projectiles filled with a pepper powder that burst into a 2-foot wide cloud when they hit their target.

"So if you were somewhat aggressive towards me, standing with fists clenched saying come at me, I'm going to go direct impact you with projectiles and hopefully get you to come with us and from a safe distance,” Hallstrom said.

Hallstrom said only Tasers only work 50 percent of the time and officers have to stand very close to suspects to use pepper spray.

The pepper balls, however, can be used from 60 feet away, giving officers more time and space to react to what’s happening.

"We believe it will allow us to have a much lower levels of force in response to some situations,” said Hallstrom.

Hallstrom said pepper balls contain the same irritant as Tobasco Sauce and cayenne pepper.

Police say another way to deescalate potentially dangerous situations will help officers breathe a little easier on the job.

"The goal is to get everybody in the central district to have one of these every shift every day every time they go out on the street,” Hallstrom said of the department’s plans.

The St. Paul Police Foundation provided the $50,000 to purchase pepper ball equipment.

The pilot program is expected to last two to three months and, if all goes well, it could be expanded to the entire department.