Police expect to add two new weapons to their arsenal this year.
The guns, one armed with a strong electrical charge and the other with a cayenne pepper powder, put violent people out of commission for a very short period without any lasting effect.
Lt. John P. DeMarco, police operations officer, said he hopes to purchase Advanced Air Taser and Pepperball guns by summer.
DeMarco said Officers Steve Baum and Bryan DalPorto were trained last year in the use of the new guns.
Baum, the police Firearms Training Unit and Defensive Tactics instructor, who, along with DalPorto has been trained to teach other officers to use both weapons, said the Advanced Air Taser shoots out a barbed projectile up to 21 feet and completely disables the person it hits.
There is a heavy electrical shock that "momentarily short-circuits a person's nervous system" without injury, said Baum. "It can penetrate through three inches of clothing."
"It will stop a charging, 300-pound man in his tracks without injuring him," he said.
Before being certified to carry the taser gun, Baum said an officer is required to be shot with it so he knows what it's like and has confidence in what it can do.
When his turn came and he began charging his training instructor, "I told myself it wasn't going to stop me; The next thing I know, I'm on the ground and the gun I was holding is 20 feet away. When that thing hits you, you can't do anything. All you can do is fall down. And the more violent and pumped up you are, the faster this thing affects you."
Baum said he was not injured and the effects wore off in a few moments.
He said the advantage of this weapon is that it gives an officer time to get someone under control in a potentially violent situation without having to use something like a nightstick or even a handgun, both of which can be lethal. The officer will often avoid injury this way.
DalPorto said the Pepperball gun has a similar non-lethal quality, and can be used from a much greater distance.
"A Pepperball gun carries 50 rounds and can be very accurate past 30 feet," DalPorto said. The irritating cayenne powder renders a person harmless by swelling up the mucus membranes in the sinus tract and causing the eyes to involuntarily close, the officers said.
DalPorto said a suspect hit with the pepperball probably won't require any type of hospital treatment, but will need fresh air and to have his eyes rinsed out with cold water. The effects wear off in 10 to 15 minutes, he said.
Another benefit of the Taser is that it digitally records each incident, Baum said. The gun is plugged into a computer and information is downloaded to record how many times it was used along with the time and date.
"Its use is always documented," Baum said. "If some lawyer says the police used the taser on his client, the information is there."
While it hasn't been used in several years here, the Police Department currently would have to use tear gas in a difficult crowd-control situation or a standoff, DeMarco said. He said tear gas sets up a hazardous materials situation, and the gas has the potential to hurt someone.
The new weapons would "allow us to be more effective in doing our job. It protects the officers and the people they're dealing with. And it gives the officers another tool to use before reaching the level of deadly force by disabling without harming," DeMarco said.
"They can also be used against people who are not necessarily criminals. Like people who are emotionally disturbed," he said.
"Two weeks ago we had a situation where they had to wrestle (an emotionally disturbed) guy down, and a couple of our guys got all bruised up. Nobody wants anyone to get hurt. If we had those guns, we could have taken him down without injury to anybody," DeMarco said.
The North Tonawanda Police Department has two Advanced Air Taser guns and has successfully used them on two occasions since last summer, Police Range Officer Scott K. Duerr said.
City of Tonawanda Police Chief Mark R. Winters said his department has employed two such guns since late last year and feels they are an extremely effective law enforcement tool.
"We had one situation with an emotionally disturbed person where just the threat of being hit with the taser caused him to acquiesce and go to Erie County Medical Center without incident. I'm very excited about the future with this (weapon)," Winters said.
Baum said there always will be situations when lethal force is required, "but this reduces the number of those situations."