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Yuma Border Patrol agents welcome use of new non-lethal Pepperball launcher
A chalky smell followed the pop-pop sound made by a newly acquired weapon Border Patrol agents hope will stop rock-throwing illegal aliens from aiming at their heads.
Yuma agents like Angel Belen say arresting illegal immigrants becomes harder when there's "six to 15 people throwing rocks at you."
Lately, agents are getting barraged by rock-throwers when they patrol the border fences along San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., and Los Algodones, Baja Calif., officials said. Recently, an illegal immigrant being arrested was hit in the head by accident, the patrol said. His injury required medical attention.
Perhaps the immigrants on the other side do it out of frustration or to distract agents.
Either way, it's one reason why the Pepperball launcher couldn't come at a better time, said Michael McGlasson, spokesman for the Yuma sector.
Perhaps their biggest advantage: They are an alternative to deadly force, he said.
About 20 Yuma agents are training to use the non-lethal weapons. They already exist in El Centro, Tucson and San Diego sectors to better handle riot situations.
The Pepperball shoots marble-size pellets that disperse into a powder on impact. The powder temporarily constricts breathing, said Eric Gough, an agent and Pepperball instructor.
Gough showed a small red mark on his arm left by a stray pellet during training. The mark will fade after about a week, he said.
"A person can function fine but what they can't do is fight," he said.
Pepperball launchers won't work for every situation, but Belen thinks they'll make his job a little safer.
"We try the best we can to have the tools and the training, and to make the right choices," he said.
Kerry Pohlman can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6872.