Take a paintball. Give it a plastic shell.
Forget the paint and fill the ball instead with a powder containing throat-tightening, eye-stinging oleoresin capsicum pepper , the stuff in pepper spray.
Put it into an air gun capable of sending such balls up to 100 feet, in quick succession. Simple.
It’s simple, versatile and potentially life-saving if a peace officer can use it instead of a handgun to disable an unruly subject, according to representatives of its manufacturer, University City-based Jaycor Tactical Systems.
Jaycor calls its product line the PepperBall System. Several years in development, the company has secured the patents for PepperBall and began selling it this year to law enforcement agencies in the market for so-called “less lethal” weapons, like tasers and beanbag shotguns.
Jaycor representatives say they have gotten requests from roughly 100 law-enforcement agencies eager to try out their product. The New York City Police Department just put in an order to test a few dozen systems. The Los Angeles Police Department is trying them out, too.
This month, San Diego County provided what Jaycor Senior Vice President Roger Behrendt called the company’s biggest order yet for the product: 274 air guns and 57,500 projectiles.
The county actually split its $500,000 order for less-lethal weapons for the Sheriff’s Department among a few manufacturers offering different technologies.
In addition to the above, county supervisors approved the purchase of 190 beanbag shotguns manufactured by Remington Arms Co. of Madison, N.C., and 42,550 beanbag rounds manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems of Jamestown, Pa. The county already has a supply of beanbag shotguns.
Once the May order is in and deputies are trained, the Sheriff’s Department will be able to put some sort of less-lethal weapon in every patrol vehicle, said Sgt. Charlie Campe of the department’s training division.
The department needs such a weapon in potentially lethal situations, Campe said, such as when a deputy is facing a disturbed person with a baseball bat, or a person threatening suicide who has a knife to his throat. It also has uses when a deputy is facing civil unrest, he said.
Company literature touts PepperBall’s uses in hostage rescue, troop withdrawal and military peacekeeping missions. The federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., is testing PepperBall, said Behrendt.
And Jaycor has been approached by a Texas company interested in putting a foul odor in the projectiles. The idea of making an area so smelly that it would drive people away could appeal to the Border Patrol, Behrendt said.
Company officials also tout the versatility of PepperBall, saying users can fire the balls at a person for “kinetic impact,” or fire them at the ground to expose him to the pepper spray without the impact.
Jaycor maintains the impact of a Pepperball is much less than a beanbag, which can be dangerous if fired at close range.
Jaycor sells three models of air guns , a pistol, a semi-automatic rifle and automatic rifle. Equipped with a limited supply of projectiles and other accessories, the launcher systems run from less than $700 to $1,075 apiece.
Sales began in the current year and have gone from nothing to more than $100,000 per month, Behrendt said, adding the company expects “a few million” dollars in sales by year-end. Revenue should double or triple the following year, he predicted.
Behrendt and Craig Beery, director of sales and training at Jaycor Tactical Systems, credit Ed Vasel, director of engineering and new product development, for marrying the ideas of paintballs and oleoresin capsicum pepper.
The two acknowledged the concept of PepperBall is simple and the technologies they combined are decades old. Other law enforcement officers even tell them they originally dreamed up the idea. What it took, Behrendt said, was Jaycor’s corporate-sized research and development effort to bring it to market.
Consider one aspect of that, Beery said , coming up with a projectile that can work equally well in a Minnesota winter and a Texas summer, when temperatures in patrol car trunks can range from minus-30 to 150 degrees. It took a good deal of science to solve that problem, Beery said.
“Two cops in a garage don’t have the bandwidth to do that,” he said.
Jaycor, which had been researching less-lethal technologies for the military, has been developing the PepperBall system since 1996, Behrendt said.
It experimented with hardware in 1997 and 1998, and prepared to bring the product to market in 1999, he said.
Part of the process involved staking out intellectual property rights to the system and doing research on the legal acceptability of using it.
Company investment in the product totaled about $500,000 last year and could reach a few million this year, Behrendt said. Among other things, Jaycor is now seeing if customers want more or less oleoresin capsicum pepper for “hotter” or “colder” rounds.