Maricopa police have a new tool to help them restrain non-compliant suspects – and avoid escalation of such encounters.
The BolaWrap device looks like something you’d expect Batman or James Bond to pull out of their belt, but law enforcement agencies across the country are putting it to practical use every day.
Subjects who are combative, physically out of control or in crisis can present a threat to officers, the public and to themselves.
Less painful and far less stressful on the human body than a Taser, the remote restraint tool is considered much lower on the use-of-force scale. That means it can be used as an early intervention tool before situations have a chance to escalate.
The device can be used at a distance of up to 25 feet. It works by deploying a 8-foot Kevlar tether that wraps up a subject’s legs or arms. A multi-dot laser helps to aim and deploy.
BolaWrap is another tool that MPD officers have to help them bring incidents to a safe conclusion.
According to Maricopa police Chief James Hughes, that 25-foot distance is key.
“At the police academy they taught us the 21-foot rule,” he said. “When you have a suspect that has a knife or other weapon, they can cover that 21-foot distance in less time than you can draw and fire your weapon, so it’s ideal for those situations.”
In situations with a non-compliant or violent suspect, ideally one officer would be prepared to deploy lethal force, while another would have a non-lethal solution like a Taser or BolaWrap, Hughes explained.
Another benefit of the restraint device is its size and shape, different from an officer’s gun or Taser so there is very little chance of mistaking it for another weapon.
Kim Potter, a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, was sentenced earlier this year to two years in prison for manslaughter in the shooting death of Duante Wright. Potter’s defense was that she mistook her pistol for a Taser when she drew and fired.
MPD officers are provided initial training on the devices including practical scenarios, written tests, malfunction drills, safe operation of the unit, when and where to use and how to deploy the device when the subject is standing still or moving.
MPD purchased eight BolaWrap devices at a cost of $1,000 each, the same price as the Taser X2 model used by the department. But cost is well worth it if the proves effective in de-escalation, Hughes said.
“Whenever we’re dealing with taxpayer dollars, we have to be prudent,” Hughes said. “But I’ll tell you, if these are found to be effective and we decide we want 10 more or 50 more, we’ll find the funding.”
Bola Wrap is manufactured by Wrap Technologies Inc. of Tempe.
Hughes declined to discuss how the BolaWrap might have improved police response in previous encounters, stating that, every one is unique.
“No two situations are identical so you really can’t compare one to another,” he said. “That’s one of the primary challenges in law enforcement – it’s impossible to cover every scenario. But I can say it is good having another tool there that can bridge a gap between levels of force. I’ve been on record for many years saying the number one challenge for law enforcement is mental health issues. Whatever we can do to render aid and not use force on these subjects. That’s what really attracted me to the Bola.”
Hughes said his department was already considering the BolaWrap before the fatal officer-involved shooting in Homestead in March.
“This is something we were looking at prior to our recent officer-involved shooting,” he said. “We are always looking at devices that reduce injury to the people we encounter who are non-compliant or combative. Also, our officers get injured in these altercations … that costs the city a lot of money due to loss of time, medical leave and so on.
“I have to admit that at first, I thought it was a little gimmicky, immobilizing the legs with a cable and that it was not a pain compliance device. But after seeing how effective it can be, I’m definitely becoming a believer.”