Columbus Police officers have another non-lethal way to deal with suspects who are acting aggressively or armed and dangerous.
Recently, members of the Columbus Police Department underwent rigorous PepperBall certification training. PepperBall launchers fire pepper irritant powder projectiles that break on impact and can disable a threat from up to 150 feet away. According to the company’s website, “PepperBall is the world leader in powerful, safe and effective non-lethal self-defense solutions for adults of all ages and walks of life. Powerful and easy to use, the PepperBall system lets you act from a distance and gives you time to get away from a threat.” Pepper balls are projectiles that are filled with a non-flammable, organic, irritant powder derived from peppers.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox,” Columbus Police Investigator Troy Urkoski said. “It gives us another non-lethal option to try and de-escalate situations and helps us try to avoid a higher level of force.”
Urkoski and Officer Matt Wehling spearheaded the training that required the four teams of patrol (approximately 20 team members including officers and investigators) to first spend time in the training room discussing use-of-force issues for law enforcement and then how the PepperBall system properly works. They then transitioned to shooter training in the police department’s sally port and at an off-site location (CNC Repair).
The Columbus officers took turns firing the yellow launchers from various distances to get a feel for how they work. Watch the video on the City's YouTube channel here to see them in training
PepperBall has been used by more than 1,300 law enforcement, corrections, security and government agencies throughout the world, according to the company. United States police and sheriff's departments include those in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Dallas, Omaha, Miami, Phoenix, Salt Lake, San Diego and Seattle. In addition, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the United States Border Patrol utilize the PepperBall System.
The PepperBall system was funded out of the CPD’s budget, according to Columbus Police Capt. Doug Molczyk, who added the department bought three launchers and has about $6,396.48 invested in it so far.
“It is the goal of the Columbus Police Department to put as many tools into our toolbox that will aid in our ability to safely resolve an incident with minimal harm to others,” Molczyk said.
The Columbus Police Department has been proactive throughout the years in gaining resources to help with de-escalation tactics. It brought in K-9 Eros in 2019, and more recently, drones and a tactical robot. The idea is for all of the tools to be used simultaneously in instances like standoff situations to prevent officers from having to go in harm’s way and to prevent any lethal force from having to be used.
“It’s all good. It helps us in trying to get the job done safely as possible,” Urkoski said. “Our K-9 also did a really good job working with the tool too.”
The group trainings were conducted during the last full week of May and ultimately proved successful.
“With something new, there is always a learning curve,” Urkoski said. “But I think our officers appreciated the training. I got a lot of good feedback. The goal is to be confident when using it when the times comes when we have to use it in the field.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Columbus Police members in the department's sally port in late May 2023 undergoing PepperBall training.)