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Ferguson police study new weapons technology to reduce killings of civilians

Police are evaluating the latest weapons technology called "The Alternative"

Sara Sidner and Jason Kravarik | 2/19/2015, 6 a.m.
The embattled police here are testing something no other department in America has tried, in an effort to prevent another ...
"The Alternative," is an orange-colored plastic device mounted on a gun barrel that turns the first fired bullet into a pingpong ball-sized projectile, designed not to kill. (Photo courtesy/Alternative Ballistics)

— The embattled police here are testing something no other department in America has tried, in an effort to prevent another potentially explosive incident in which an officer kills an unarmed civilian.

Ferguson police are evaluating a new attachment to their guns that could give a suspect a chance to live in an otherwise lethal encounter with police.

This latest piece of weapons technology is called "The Alternative," and it's an orange-colored plastic device mounted on a gun barrel that turns the first fired bullet into a ping pong ball-sized projectile, designed not to kill.

Several officers have been trained on how to use it, but city officials have yet to decide on making the gear a requirement.

"It's something we're testing for ourselves and seeing if this is even something feasible or reasonable to use for law enforcement officers," Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told CNN.

The testing began just a week shy of the six-month anniversary of the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by then-Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, who is white and has since quit the force. The August police shooting sparked an intense, sometimes violent reaction from Ferguson residents, and demonstrations spread across the country.

Protesters condemned police tactics as brutal and excessive against minorities, citing other police killings of black men, often unarmed.

The new gun technology is being evaluated as a remedy to the simmering tension between police and community members.

Local officials didn't want to speculate whether the device could have altered the outcome of the Brown-Wilson encounter. Wilson, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, told a grand jury that as he sat in his squad car, Brown, who was outside the vehicle, punched him in the face. Wilson fired multiple shots at Brown, killing him.

How it works

When the gun is fired, the bullet embeds in a golf ball-sized metal bulb, attached at the muzzle. The bullet fuses inside the metal sphere, and the unit morphs into a speeding ball.

Impact would be painful, but the projectile could be far less lethal than a naked bullet, the manufacturer said. Getting hit could break bones and even kill.

"It's gonna feel like you had a professional baseball player hit you in the chest with a hammer, so it is going to hurt," said Christian Ellis, the CEO of Alternative Ballistics. "There is a possibility that this could kill you, but it is very slight when you compare that to a bullet."

His firm spent nine years developing the invention.

"It was actually created by a retired sheriff officer. He did not like the fact that people were being shot when the officers do have time (to consider options) but they had no other option in lethal force," Ellis said.

"So this product gives the officer another option in that scenario when it's not reactive, and they do have the time to put it on," he said, referring to mounting the device at the end of a gun barrel.

The device, also called a docking unit, costs $45 and has a one-time use. It ejects itself from the muzzle after the police gun is fired. An officer can return to shooting again in a split second, and the bullets will be direct and unhampered.