Pepper guns to be added to Milwaukee police arsenal

By Bob Purvis
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As soon as July, more than 100 officers will be carrying PepperBall guns, powered by compressed air that launches pellets filled with concentrated pepper spray powder.

The department will use the guns for six to 18 months as part of a pilot program with PepperBall Technologies Inc.

In exchange for a chance to buy discounted guns and accessories, the department will log information on officer and suspect injuries when PepperBall guns are used, said Sgt. Michael Kuspa, who leads the department''s "less lethal" program.

The guns also fire a glass shattering pellet, a water filled round intended to achieve compliance through pain and a paint ball that could be used to mark participants in riot situations.

It can be fired accurately from up to 60 feet away. It can also be used to shoot into areas where police suspect someone may be hiding without having to approach them blindly, Kuspa said.

"The other way, we are risking not only the officers'' lives but the criminals'' if we get into a confrontation situation," Kuspa said.

The large gun costs about $500, a smaller model around $400. During the pilot, the department will pay for its own air cartridge refills and pellets.

Kuspa says the success of another non-lethal weapon has interested the department about the potential to minimize both officer and suspect injuries.

Since launching a similar pilot program in March, officers have used Tasers 106 times. Three suspects have sustained injuries other than burns caused by the Taser''s electric charge, and no officers carrying the device have been hurt, according to police records.

Many suspects have surrendered as soon as police brandish the Taser, to avoid being shocked, Kuspa said.

"The streets are talking because they know not to fight with cops because they are going to get tased," Kuspa said.

The PepperBall gun is already being used in law enforcement agencies in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

While the PepperBall gun and other less lethal devices will never eliminate the need for deadly force, they can ensure that it is only used when absolutely necessary, Kuspa said.

"I see us using it more in situations where we are scratching our heads saying ''what do we do next?"

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