Police consider PepperBalls as alternative to lethal force

WATKINSVILLE — It’s not always clear about how law enforcement officers discern when force is necessary and what type of force is appropriate.

With events like Ferguson, Missouri, North Charleston, South Carolina and now Baltimore where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died after a police officer tackled him, some people continue to question the legal force police have.

But that’s why some police officers are adamant about police training — because it’s a reminder of the responsibility they hold to protect the public and the skepticism some people have of their responsibility.

Grady Newsource reporter Kendall Trammell observed how some officers train, so that they can exercise their force in a way they believe is the right way. 

PepperBall Bullets
 On Monday, some officers reminded themselves with a PepperBall training course hosted by the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. This is considered a non-lethal weapon that shoots pepper-powdered bullets; it’s typically used to break up large riots, like those seen in Ferguson last year. PepperBall guns are designed to reduce officer and suspect injuries and improve public perception of law enforcement agencies.

The court says law enforcement agencies must have options other than lethal force.

Pepperball Instructor Carl Sims from Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office said one of the first questions officers will receive after using force is “Why didn’t you use a less lethal option?”

The PepperBall System uses high-pressure air and CO2 to deliver PAVA powder projectiles from a safe distance.


The public may criticize the pain some officer inflict on people, Sims said, but it’s a relative factor of force. 

“Pain is mind over matter. If you don’t mind it don’t matter,” Sims said to the nine instructors there.

He said pain is a very small factor in what officers are dealing with because pain may not matter to them.

“You don’t know what’s driving them,” he said. “You don’t know what their focus is.”

Sims said there are three ways to stop a fight: oxygen, movement and the ability to see. Disarming any of these three can stop a fight. Shots of PepperBall rounds can do all three.

The PepperBall System can create sensory overload, causing the target to freeze.

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