Military and Police

Cops Considering New Restraint Device to De-escalate Encounters

OpsLens recently published an expose in which analysis of the traditional police duty belt overburdened with equipment, culminating in health woes for cops, led to the creation of weight-bearing duty vests consolidating most of the gear while also housing ballistic protective properties. As discussed in that article, the duty vest removes weight-bearing stuff from a cop’s lower back and, to a large degree, redistributes the burden away from hips. Now, cops may be squeezing in yet another tactical device among their already overpopulated arsenal of life-saving gear.

“BolaWrap,” a law enforcement product engineered and marketed by Wrap Technologies Inc., is developed with the sole purpose to incapacitate suspects, like a Tazer. But the BolaWrap, although electrically charged, does not generate electric shock throughout the human body; it simply ties up the suspect so that police officers can relatively subdue and more safely effect arrest.

In a promo, Wrap Technologies encapsulates BolaWrap’s benefits: “Existing less lethal devices rely on ‘pain compliance,’ increasing the chance of injury or aggression, and complicating apprehension. The BolaWrap 100 is a restraint tool for Police and Military which can be used early in an encounter between officer and suspect in order to prevent unnecessary escalation and violence.”

In the lethal force continuum, although a few rungs down from the Tazer, BolaWrap is similar to the stunner in that officer safety is relatively maintained by creating distance while resorting to a less-lethal device to achieve compliance.

(Credit: Wrap Technologies, Inc.)

According to the specs offered by Wrap Technologies, the BolaWrap extends roughly eight feet of Kevlar tether with a range of close to 25 feet, projected from a remote hand-held device the size of an electric toothbrush fashioned to slide into/from a holster. Wrap Technologies claims the velocity of BolaWrap reaches 640 feet per second.

Per a Wrap Technologies one-line thematic: “The BolaWrap 100 gives officers a safe way to avoid escalating a potentially violent encounter without the use of excessive force.”

Whether by happenstance, agency inquiry, or to tacitly make a point from a national episode involving an officer-involved shooting which burned across media wires rampantly ramping up tension, BolaWrap makers tested their product among police personnel employed by the Ferguson, Missouri police department.

Bola Wrap Featured on KSDK-5 Ferguson

Excellent piece about the BolaWrap™ by KSDK-5 of NBC in Ferguson, St. Louis!#NBC #Police #Ferguson #StLouis #LawEnforcement #nonlethal #BolaWrap #WrapTechnologies

Posted by Wrap Technologies Inc on Thursday, July 12, 2018

Akin to the Tazer’s fishhook-like anchors, the classic “bola” is equipped with BolaWrap’s miniaturized grappling hook clings to clothing while the length bands around the human quarry. Bad guy wearing shorts? Aim higher. Naked suspects? Seems that may be a problem whereby cops would have to transition to another compliance device. A snag of sorts, unless it is deemed necessary despite the tiny punctures it creates in skin. But I would think that a still-resistant individual would add to the puncture damage by struggling to get free; adding physical tension is sure to embed deeper.

Mental health scenarios which police encounter more and more frequently may be handled more conservatively by using BolaWrap. Based in Las Vegas, Wrap Technologies states BolaWrap is solely designed to safely restrain folks who are unruly and non-compliant, staving off the use of deadly force. Encountering a few myself, some emotionally disturbed persons present in the buff, reveling in open-air environs. A cop can’t rebuff a mind-disordered individual in the buff with a BolaWrap. To have intended effect, the grappling hook needs a surface to snag.

In an interview conducted by Fox News 32, Buffalo Grove, Illinois police Chief Steve Casstevens said, “I think it’s just another tool in the toolbox for officers when they’re confronting perhaps a mentally ill person or a subject who wants to commit suicide. This might be a tool to help the officer control the subject.” The anti-police rhetoric born of public misperception ensues after cops try their darnedest to safely quell often-maniacal subjects hell-bent on taking out the law pervades, so perhaps BolaWrap can alleviate the bum wrap law enforcers get when attempting to subdue gross unruliness caused by seemingly uncontainable combatants.

As to BolaWrap’s effectiveness and why they would have their department’s officers use it, several Florida police chiefs opined favorably, citing “less lethal” options to quell incitements engendering dangers to cops, suspects, and the public:

BolaWrap 100 Miami Officials

What are the professionals saying? See what some of Florida’s Finest had to say about the BolaWrap at our recent demo…#wrap #bolawrap #nonlethal #easeofuse #RemoteRestraint #lawenforcement #innovation #savinglives

Posted by Wrap Technologies Inc on Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aurora, Illinois police Chief Kristan Ziman had a valid perspective for consideration, especially given the often unknown variables in police work such as suspects’ actions. Chief Ziman’s chief concern with BolaWrap is the potential for the device’s tether to somehow wrap around the suspect’s neck, perhaps causing injury or, even worse, episodic strangulation. The manufacturers engineered a laser site for aiming purposes. Ziman bills the BolaWrap as an “appropriate tool” in accord with the use of force continuum, however.

Like any piece of equipment, whether in law enforcement, bridge-building or landscaping, technology has limits and users are not prescient enough so as to preclude catastrophe. If that sounds foreboding, it is because fool-proofing is an often imperfect dynamic keeping civil tort attorneys in the green.

Revisiting Ferguson, Missouri again, what if police Officer Darren Wilson used a BolaWrap instead of a firearm to thwart the life-threatening assail perpetrated by Michael Brown? In close proximity and with rapid motion by one or both involved parties, perhaps, as Chief Ziman predicated, Brown may have been choked by the unintended strangle-hold of BolaWarp deployment? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

Speaking to Fox News reporter Christopher Carbone, Chief Ziman put it this way: “But there are some times where [cops] are dealing with suspects who are going to resist arrest, and so we have to move into that force continuum. And this is an appropriate tool” to do just that. Respectfully, the “some times” Chief Ziman refers to are each and every one of them perilous for police officers and anyone proximal to the incident and/or arrest scene.

Cops are trained to read signs and body language, and street patrol experience bolsters those life-saving traits, but it is not guaranteed science. Indeed, the onus is on law enforcers to conduct themselves and play it safely. But the bad guy also plays a role and has a responsibility to at least listen to lawful commands. Granted, some mind-blown-in-a-bad-way suspects may not have the faculties or possess the wherewithal to comprehend lawful orders, compelling some kind of police action/reaction. That police action comes with well-intended objectives which may go horribly awry. But the chances of a BolaWrap misapplication is a far cry with less chance of death than the rather certain lethality of a firearm used in its place.

Without splitting hairs, the BolaWrap is described as a less-lethal device with minimal to no pain. Compare that with both the less-lethal Tazer and assured deadly-force of a firearm.

As to the BolaWrap inadvertently strangling a suspect, I suppose aim has much to do with that possibility. After viewing many BolaWrap demonstrations, it seems illogical that an officer’s aim would be that high up on the human form. As mentioned earlier, also precluding the notion of abysmal aim is the BoalWrap’s laser beam, precisely targeting the girth-point around which the tether will ensnare and subdue the human form. I think the laser pointer aspect negates any apprehension of strangulation, as portended by Chief Ziman.

Oh, yeah…speaking of would-be prohibitions pertaining to police tactician accoutrements, the BolaWrap costs $800 for the unit and $30 for each tether cartridge. The rhetoric of many police budgets often sinking lower than benthic sediments may chuck some police agencies from purchasing BolaWraps at all. But, consider that Tazers were cost-prohibitive until departments found grant money. Body-worn cameras were costly until agencies applied for grant money. Eventually body-cams were offered to law enforcement organizations for free, through subsidies. Perhaps BolaWraps will find their way in the hands of cops for significantly lower costs or through grants or philanthropy. That’s how my department acquired Tazers for its entire force—an anonymous donor dropped a check in the mail and, boom, our entire force was trained and outfitted.

“First impressions are good,” Chief Ziman opined. I concur with her, especially when our duty belts or duty vests are laden with ample gear, supplanting an old one—OC spray, in my opinion—for a new one. Never cared for OC canisters—too many side effects which also impact cops and anyone else in proximity. The suspect may go down and become compliant, but so can colleagues inhaling molecular hot tamales, experiencing skin irritation from absorption through pores, and blinding from eyelids slamming shut like the bank vault at 5 p.m.

As acknowledged by Wrap Technologies, “Existing less lethal devices rely on ‘pain compliance’ resulting in probability of injury, increased aggression and complicated apprehension.” BolaWrap seems ideal, but some reservation is based on its tensile integrity. Does the Kevlar cord resist sharp objects slicing through? Since it anchors by a tiny grappling hook, can a suspect whose legs are coiled somehow defeat the bola with free arms?

As we all know, the hands will kill ya. With those free upper extremities, can the bad guys/girls yank at the bola and get free? For police instincts, using it against a runner conjures aiming low, underscored by the fact that no one flees with their hands at their sides.

Similar to the controversies stemming from Tazer uses, BolaWrap ensnaring fleeing suspects may cause down-to-the-ground injuries; I can hear the criminal supporters claiming police brutality already. Like any other police device, it is best to have and use it than be defenseless against homicidal miscreants. Similarly, police body-cam footage has become a monumental ingredient in exonerating cops who are falsely accused of brutality and/or unjust tactics when encountering crystal-clear aggressors.

Think of the BolaWrap as a modern-day gadget adopted from the western-era lasso, except with a laser beam, just like the Tazer. Given its infancy, who knows how effective it will be in actual encounters. Also a given is BolaWrap’s practicality in the field as well as its compactness. No cop wants to resort to deadly use of force. None. But it does come to the fore at times, compelled by the illicit-minded, thus any circumvention to that last resort is endemically embraced.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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