Often referred to as a pepper spray ball or a pepper-spray projectile, pepper balls are potent but non-lethal weapons that contain powdered chemical that are designed to help subdue an attacker. Used in many law enforcement agencies, they may also be used as a means of bringing down a suspect who is fleeing a crime scene, or to intervene in some sort of situation where violence is involved.
A launching device that bears a strong resemblance to paintball guns deploys pepper balls. Generally, the launchers are accurate for a range of up to sixty linear feet. The pepper-spray ball will break upon contact with any surface and begin to spread chemicals that can cause severe irritation to the eyes and the nose. The main ingredient in the pepper spray balls is known as PAVA. Essentially a concentrated extract of the capsaicin that gives cayenne peppers their heat, PAVA is strong enough to immobilize just about anyone of any physical size. When a pepper-spray pellet breaks, it can saturate a diameter of two hundred feet.
Unlike the small vials of pepper spray that many people carry for personal safety, an individual does not have to come into direct contact with the pepper-spray pellet in order to be exposed to the effects. The rate of saturation is quick and thorough, with the burning sensation beginning immediately. This makes the use of pepper balls ideal when there is an obvious danger of attempting to subdue an individual through physical contact, but the situation is not severe enough to warrant the use of firearms.
Pepper spray balls are used in just about any situation where there is a need to provide some sort of protection, or to capture a suspect. Law enforcement may use pepper balls to halt fleeing suspects, flush out suspects who are hiding in a building or behind a barrier, or to disperse riots. Bounty hunters may choose to employ these weapons in situations where there is an obvious standoff when attempting to capture a bail jumper. The military also tends to make use of pepper balls as part of war training programs.
While pepper balls generally do not cause any type of permanent damage, persons who have allergies to cayenne or other hot peppers can experience severe physical reactions if within range of a deployed pepper ball. In situations of this nature, it is important to get the individual to an emergency room or other medical facility immediately.