PLATTSBURGH — It’s billed as akin to “remote handcuffs.”
Multiple local police departments attended a training this week on the BolaWrap, “a hand-held remote restraint device that discharges an 8-foot bola style Kevlar® tether at 513 feet per second to wrap a subject’s legs or arms at an effective range of 10 to 25 feet,” according to vendor Wrap Technologies’ website.
The tethers have four-pronged hooks on either end and are contained in a cartridge “powered by a partial charge .380 blank.”
“This is not going to replace anything, but it’s going to displace the need to use pain compliance when it’s unnecessary,” Wrap Technologies Public Safety Ambassador Donald De Lucca, a retired chief of police, said.
LOOK TO FUTURE
Earlier this year, municipalities with law enforcement agencies in New York State had to submit plans of improvement following comprehensive reviews of police policies and practices.
That mandate came down last year through an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June 2020 in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis.
Exploring tools like BolaWrap, Plattsburgh City Police Capt. Brad Kiroy said, is part of moving forward after the governor’s order and the Plattsburgh Common Council’s adoption of a reform plan that, among other things, addresses officer training, transparency and crisis intervention.
“It’s incumbent upon us, especially as leadership of the department, to look to the future for alternative use of force methods.”
Those in attendance at the BolaWrap demonstration, put on by Wrap Technologies at South Plattsburgh Fire Department’s Station 1 Wednesday, included City Police, SUNY Plattsburgh University Police, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake Placid Police Department and Saranac Lake Village Police.
The website said BolaWrap was “designed to be used on non-compliant subjects who need to be detained but are not responding to verbal commands of officers.” Suggested scenarios for use include emotionally disturbed persons, passively resistant and non-compliant subjects, the mentally ill and persons in crisis.
Kevin Johnson, a Wrap Technologies master trainer, explained that the tether comes out of the device in a “V” pattern that, at 10 feet out, becomes a horizontal line in front of the person officers want to deploy it on.
Once the tether hits the person, it wraps around them. The hooks ideally lodge into clothing, but can also penetrate skin if a subject is not clothed.
Held like a remote, the device comes with a safety, a laser for aiming and an activation button that launches the tether. Upon engagement, it lets out a loud “bang” that Johnson said can help distract a subject, allowing police to move in.
De Lucca added that the BolaWrap does not have the inertia to knock someone down or pull their arms down, or even to choke them if it’s wrapped around their neck, and that the cord can be clipped with scissors, a seat belt cutter or medical shears.
NEED A PLAN
Asked about their results wrapping smaller versus larger people, De Lucca said that the cord won’t break even if it only wraps just once around a larger person.
But police will still need a plan to take people into custody as, after a few minutes, subjects can work their way out of the wrap, he added.
“This is not a tool where you can deploy it and just sit there and watch,” Johnson said.
Factors that can decrease the possibility of a successful wrap include if the person is moving or is farther than 25 feet away from the officer.
De Lucca also noted that the BolaWrap will not work on its own for all situations, such as when a subject is armed, but can instead be used as a supplemental tool when multiple officers respond to a call.
Based on voluntary reports from the agencies using the BolaWrap across the country, the tool has a more than 80 percent success rate, according to De Lucca.
Kiroy said that statistic could not be ignored, adding that, as a smaller department, City Police lets bigger agencies test out new technologies to figure out which methods are proven, a strategy also informed by the goal of fiscal responsibility.
“This was … I think one of the most effective and one of the most realistic so that’s why we wanted to do this today.”
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest volunteered to be on the receiving end of a BolaWrap deployment. Acknowledging how the Wrap Technologies representatives had him don thicker sweatpants over his own clothes, he said it did not hurt and he was moreso startled by the loud bangs.
Likely next steps to consider bringing BolaWrap to City Police include looking at the department’s needs as well as what funding opportunities exist outside an operational general fund, Rosenquest said. He floated use of asset seizure money or, pointing to other agencies present, group buying power.
“There’s ways to explore that but, at the end of the day, it does seem to be an effective tool for how we want to start policing in the community.”
Maj. Nicholas Leon, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office’s chief deputy, said he would have to meet with the sheriff to discuss the BolaWrap, the cost of supplies — $925 per device and $30 per cartridge — and training, and how many the Sheriff’s Office might like to deploy. From there, they would put together a package and present it to the Clinton County Legislature.
Leon sees the BolaWrap as technology finally catching up to expectations for policing, which have come to include handling mental health crises.
“Now we have something that may not cause harm to somebody but still will allow us to take them into custody — that’s huge.
“Nothing’s perfect, but the more tools you have, you can apply the appropriate tool to the appropriate situation.”
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