FERGUSON, Mo. (KSDK) – Thursday, Ferguson police officers will begin testing a new device that makes their service weapons "less lethal" in an effort to preserve life in potential police shootings. And as far city leaders know, Ferguson could become the first department in the country to use the devices developed by Alternative Ballistics.
Critics say there is a reason no other departments are using this technology -- because they believe it puts officers' lives in danger.
Video game-like simulation in a company video is as close to any action this new technology has seen. But its developers believe what some call a the "clown nose" could save lives in the real world.
"It's literally a steal ball that's porcelain coated," describes Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III.
It is a one-time-use device officer would have to attach to their weapons before firing. A regular bullet is then absorbed in a spherical "alloy projectile" which then becomes one projectile with the bullet that the manufacturer says will "send a shockwave of pain through the suspect without the internal damage that a penetrating bullet would cause."
"It gives you just one more opportunity to neutralize the subject without killing him," says Knowles. "But we also can't guarantee that they would be killed."
And for that reason the mayor says this is not a tool for civil unrest or protests. It could only be used in a situation where deadly force would be authorized.
"I really don't see a lot of use for this type of equipment," says former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.
Fitch says the time required to attach or detach the device makes officer vulnerable to injury, or worse.
"I have no problem with looking at any kind of new technology, but the thought of actually implementing something like this I think would be very dangerous for police officers because these situations happen very quickly and you'd better be ready," says Fitch.
Knowles says the city is a long way from deploying the technology in the field.
"We think it's worthwhile to explore but we're still in the exploratory phase," says Knowles.
"We're looking to be a leader and if this is something that can protect somebody – both protect the officers, protect the citizens and help preserve lives even the apprehension of a suspect – we're willing to look at it. "
Knowles says Alternative Ballistics representatives will be in Ferguson Thursday to test the device with five officers at a gun range. Eventually, he says all 55 officers will have the opportunity to test it before the city decides whether the department will use the technology.