For almost 20 years, the Dakota County Jail has been utilizing a non-lethal technology that is starting to make its way into other law enforcement agencies in the state - the PepperBall launcher.
In St. Paul, a pilot program for the launchers began in February, while the Special Response Team at the Dakota County Jail has been using them since 2002.
The PepperBall launcher looks like a paintball gun, but instead of paint, the PepperBall launcher uses a non-lethal irritant.
The launchers were introduced to the Special Response Team as a way to ensure the safety of both deputies and inmates.
"Lethal force weapons are not allowed in the jail," Sgt. Jacob Schak, commander of the special response unit, said. "The county saw the PepperBalls as an alternative so they reached out to the company to learn more about it."
All 11 deputies of the Special Response Team are trained to use the PepperBall launchers.
Every year, the deputies go through recertification. The user class is a four-hour training course that includes a PowerPoint, written test and firing skills course.
For the deputies that want to become certified instructors, they go for a two-day training session with the company. They must get recertified every two years.
The PepperBall launcher, Schak said, has less impact than the less-lethal shotguns that have been used by deputies in the past. The PepperBall launchers also allow deputies to put more distance between themselves and an inmate if a situation were to arise.
The main point is to have a less-lethal option, Schak said, adding that this may be the reason why police departments are starting to consider the use of PepperBall launchers.
"The way we train the deputies with the PepperBalls is we don't want to use them, but we have them in case we need them," Schak said.
Typically, Schak said, the team has the launchers ready to use in situations like shakedowns or when they are moving large groups of inmates from one part of the jail to another.
"It's very seldom that they are, but they have been used," Schak said.
Police department reviews options
Last week, the Hastings Police Department received results from a study that looked at possible non-lethal options for the City of Hastings, according to Police Chief Bryan Schafer. The results of the study recommended three options, which are not yet available to the public.
"The department is taking this very seriously. We are going to look into what is going to be best in the field, what will be available immediately to officers, and what other tools we can use when have the time to think and choose the best method," Schafer said.
Although they do not use them currently, the HPD has tried using PepperBalls before. Due to the technology at the time, however, the launchers didn't work as well and the idea was benched, according to Schafer.