The Alternative hits the streets in Texas
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has become the first to adopt the new less-lethal option
Sponsored by Alternative Ballistics
By John Erich, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
Back in his days as a city cop, David Johnson recalls, he was dispatched for a subject who was suicidal. He found the man in his front yard, cutting himself with a knife. Johnson approached cautiously, baton in hand, to make contact. Displaying the knife, the man warned him back, threatening to stab Johnson if he got too close.
“I didn’t have anything to close that distance,” recalled Johnson, now chief deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Texas. “Something back then would have been nice.”
Today Johnson and his colleagues have that something: The Alternative, which deputies began carrying this spring. It is the first department in America to bring the device to the field, with neighboring Gonzales County following soon after.
The adoption follows a positive evaluation from the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and good reception from members of the Texas Sheriff’s Regional Alliance (TSRA), both of which considered Alternative Ballistics’ signature product in late 2022 and early 2023.
“I think we have to recognize in law enforcement that the dynamics are changing,” said former Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback, a senior advisor for the NSA and executive director of the TSRA, who was part of both evaluation processes. “This is a tool that’s carried on your person and is ready to use and can be put into play in about a five-second period. I think that has value for law enforcement today.”
‘I became a believer’
The NSA first asked Louderback, who advises the group on tactical and ballistic issues, to look at The Alternative more than a year ago. He connected with Alternative Ballistics, attended some shows with company leaders, spent some time and got to know the technology. Ultimately he agreed it filled a gap in the continuum of less-lethal force available to officers.
“I recommended it to NSA for a number of reasons – for one, it’s an immediate device that’s readily accessible,” Louderback said. “Current tools like less-lethal shotguns are not only relatively expensive, but they reside in the trunk or back of the vehicle. So a deputy in a less-lethal situation has to go back and get it and put it into play.
“The other major form of less-lethal is riot-control or crowd-control-type devices, the 40-mm impact launchers and beanbag shotguns. Those were used a lot during the protests of 2020, but those were an extraordinary circumstance and not typical of everyday calls, where a less-lethal situation can quickly turn lethal.
“The Alternative is a different concept in a lot of ways, so my suggestion was, let’s look at it and see if it has a place. And the best way to go about that was to get it in a few hands.”
There were some willing hands back in Texas, where Louderback turned to associates from the TSRA, a voluntary alliance of state sheriffs that works to promote policy and reduce crime. He introduced the device to some of those colleagues, and a demonstration showed them all how it worked. Everyone liked the idea, and multiple agencies determined they were interested in potentially moving forward with trying it. Train-the-trainer courses followed.
Jackson County’s sheriff was among those who believed The Alternative would be a good addition. But police can be skeptical by nature, and some of his troops needed a bit of convincing.
“Some of the deputies were questioning it, as was I before I took the training. ‘Why do we even need this?’” recalled Johnson. “But after that eight-hour course from Alternative Ballistics, I became a believer. And now I’ve trained nine deputies at this point, and they’ve become believers.”
The Alternative’s certification course was developed to help ensure police users could operate the device safely and within its recommended guidelines. It involves both a classroom component that culminates in a written exam and then range use with live-fire qualification standards. Department trainers get their training from Alternative Ballistics’ traveling training team of former law enforcement personnel.
The goals of the training are to instill safe handling and proper attachment procedures, muscle memory for efficient deployment and procedures to reduce the risk of sympathetic and double-tap firing. Passing the class earns officers a certification.
Johnson and other users say the process of attaching The Alternative to their firearm becomes smooth and easy with just a few repetitions – but like any perishable skill, it takes refreshing.
“They encouraged me, and I encourage my deputies, to go home and practice,” said Johnson. “We had training guns and practiced in the classroom, and everybody got lots of repetitions. But when you get home also, unload your gun – check it twice to make sure it’s unloaded – and practice. Because the whole concept of this – remember, you’re in close, within 20 to 32 feet of this person, and things can change in a second – is that, with your gun out and at low ready, or even pointed at the subject, you can reach with your nondominant hand, retrieve the device and attach it, all the while looking at the person. You can’t stop and dig around on your belt: ‘Where did I put this? Where did I put this?’ It takes practice.”
As it does with all uses of less-lethal devices, Jackson County will require after-action reports when The Alternative is used, along with photographs when possible. All deputies will carry The Alternative, with the exception of a small handful who still favor older GI M1911 .45s for which there’s not yet a compatible dock.
More users may be in the offing as awareness of The Alternative grows. In May the Alternative Ballistics team traveled to Pensacola, Florida to meet with commanders of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO). After a successful demonstration, the ECSO is now sanctioning an official assessment of the device, with additional range evaluations before authorizing its use in the field.
Accreditation, proposed bill offer added protection
As The Alternative makes it way to the streets, the training plan behind it is being submitted for accreditation by TCOLE, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Simultaneously, a bill moving through the Texas legislature would protect officers who use less-lethal force in good faith from criminal prosecutions if suspects are injured. Severe injuries aren’t likely with The Alternative, given the amount of force it’s shown to deliver, but can happen with any kind of less-lethal force.
Texas law already shields such officers, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Drew Springer, but the legislation will offer additional protection for their use of new less-lethal options. “The data shows that less-lethal devices … can reduce injury rates for suspects and officers compared to the more lethal options such as firearms,” Springer said. Governor Greg Abbott has said he will sign the bill.
Meanwhile, as The Alternative comes into use, departments across Texas and beyond will be watching with interest. Local leaders believe it will prove a needed addition to their less-lethal arsenal.
“Just prior to the training, the Jackson County sheriff told me they’d had a mental health issue for someone who had a knife nearby,” said Louderback. “He said it would have been an ideal place to use this. And with the mental health and narcotics issues we see today, the problems associated with those are more prevalent than people realize.
“As we move forward, a less-lethal device that can quickly and efficiently be put into play and used can be a valuable piece.”