Pepper balls could calm jail riots

There hasn’t been a riot inside the Mille Lacs County Jail for decades, but the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Department is adding a pepper ball weapon to the department’s arsenal in case a jail riot should occur.

Sheriff Brent Lindgren received the Mille Lacs County Board’s approval on March 20 to purchase the pepper ball equipment and materials for two employees at a cost of $1,495.

“It will bring you to your knees,” said Lindgren about the pepper ball spray, explaining that its purpose would be to quell a riot or out-of-control situation inside the Mille Lacs County Jail. By having the pepper ball, correction officers could get control to move inmates to various locations within the jail, Lindgren told the board.

The expenditure would include training of two department employees who would then return and train other staff members. The vendor is Pepper Ball Technologies and the material will include two custom pepper ball launchers, 180 inert training rounds, 90 10X hot pepper rounds, one scuba tank and one air fill adapter, as well as miscellaneous other pieces of equipment.

Jail staff and/or any deputy going into the jail space to use the pepper ball spray would be wearing air mask equipment. Training will be on how to launch the equipment and maintenance.

Pepper Ball Technologies describes its 10X pepper ball rounds as being frangible plastic projectiles designed to strike your targets with painful kinetic impact and fracture on impact to release very irritating pepper powder. Each 10X projectile delivers 10 times the hot PAVA (Capsaicin II or hot pepper) irritant powder as our standard PAVA pepper rounds.”

The company states that the 10X rounds are recommended to meet “challenging outdoor situations such as perpetrators who use bandana masks to evade inhalation, or where PAVA powder may disperse too rapidly such as conditions with strong winds. The 10X projectile is also ideally suited for riot situations where they may be skipped off the pavement to quickly create an intense barrier cloud of PAVA powder pepper irritant.”

The Custom Carbine SX pepper ball launcher looks like a sub machine gun with a high-pressure air bottle attached to the lower end of the pistol grip and a 160-round capacity pepper ball hopper mounted on top.

“We need some level of response,” Sheriff Lindgren told the board about being able to keep the jail population under control and head off a situation becoming a riot. He explained that the pepper is in a dry state and that after the situation is over the staff will let the pepper dust settle through the air and then vacuum it up. The ventilation system is closed off during the use of the pepper ball so that it doesn’t get into the system, Lindgren explained. Vacuuming removes the residue after it is used.

In talking with Sheriff Lindgren after the board meeting, he said that jail staff don’t have the option of having a firearm inside the jail and that there can be large groups of inmates in certain areas during the day.

The Mille Lacs County Jail has a capacity of 149 and the average daily number there has been about 80, according to Mille Lacs Jail Administrator, Captain Mike Smith. There hasn’t been any riot at the jail that he remembers, he said, but added that the staff and sheriff’s department has to be prepared.

An example of where there can be large groups of inmates, said Lindgren, is the jail’s dorm, which has a capacity of up to 60 persons.

The jail also has two other areas. One is the 58-capacity Tango medium/maximum security unit in which inmates are let out of their cells to be in a common area during the day. Then there is a medium/maximum security area with four units, according to Smith. One unit can hold up to 18 and the other three each can hold a maximum of eight, four and two.

The rest of the jail staff besides Smith consists of one sergeant and five officers.