PARK CITY — A bang, a flash, and in an instant the demonstration mannequin's legs are bound together like something out of a comic book.
"When I saw it, I thought, 'This is almost like Spider-Man technology,'" said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter. "This gives us another option that we might be able to use to restrain somebody with less lethal force."
Park City police, Utah Highway Patrol and representatives from Wrap Technologies demonstrated a new, nonlethal restraint device Wednesday that Park City is evaluating for use in mental health crisis situations.
While the ear-splitting sound of the BolaWrap's firing gives an impression of force, it is marketed as an alternative to "pain-compliance weapons" like Tasers.
An 8-foot Kevlar cord with two prongs resembling fish hooks on each end is fired from the cartridge at a speed of 640 feet-per-second by a half-charge, 9 mm blank. The cord usually wraps around the target twice, either around their legs or arms, and digs into their clothes, effectively subduing them. It would take more than 380 pounds of force to break the cord, according to Michael Rothans, a company vice president.
"Most other tools, or weapons, that law enforcement carry is a pain-compliance tool — so the intent is to inflict pain in order to gain compliance," Rothans said. "That's not what this tool is about. This tool is about restraint."
The device resembles a TV remote with a large silver button that fires the cord. A smaller switch, the device's safety, is positioned below the firing button. It can be fired at an individual from 10 to 25 feet away.
The city is one of 15 law enforcement agencies nationwide selected by Wrap Technologies to test and evaluate the device, Rothans said.
According to Carpenter and Rothans, the device is intended for use on noncompliant, mentally ill individuals who need to be subdued with something less severe than a stun gun.
"I worked with Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for many years and saw many instances where we used force, and sometimes deadly force, against people that were suffering from mental health crises," Rothans said. "And we struggled to make it better."
Rothans, who had a 32-year career in law enforcement before he joined Wrap Technologies, said BolaWrap could be the answer.
"I think some of it's drug-induced psychosis and then, of course, the other mental health issues we see, that there's no place for these individuals to receive treatment," Carpenter said. "So it's really created a problem in our society."
Park City Police Capt. Phil Kirk said that due to the city and department's smaller size, with an estimated population of 8,378, it is not a common occurrence for Park City police to respond to mental health crisis calls, or to use a stun gun. In the past year, the department has responded to 23 mental health calls, he said.
Nonetheless, Kirk said the pursuit of new technologies is one to get behind.
Rothans said that once it goes on the market, each BolaWrap device will cost $800, and $30 for each replacement cartridge.
Though the department is early in the process — no purchases have been made and officers have not been trained with it — Carpenter seemed optimistic about the device's prospects at his department.
"Assuming our budget can sustain it, yes," Carpenter said when asked if it is likely that Park City will get the BolaWrap. "We are going to try it. We're going to be a test and evaluation department. We're looking forward to that and certainly plan on reporting back our findings."
"It actually could be purchased now," Rothans said, "but we're trying to fine tune it. We had some agencies that tested it, made some recommendations and we made some changes to make it better."
In addition to Park City, Rothans said that cities from Madison, Wisconsin, to Orlando, Florida, are testing the BolaWrap device. Wrap Technologies plans on traveling to Ferguson, Missouri, after leaving Utah.
"I think they're anxious to get it out in the field," Rothans said. "They're anxious to give it a test and give it a try. Because officers are looking for every tool they can, every new invention, in order to make their job better and make their service to the public even safer."2 comments on this story
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce, a spokesperson with the Utah Department of Public Safety, said that while he could not endorse the device, Park City's test of BolaWrap fits in line with the state's pursuit of weapon alternatives and keeping Utahns safe.
Royce said Utah police officers train with the Utah Crisis Intervention Team to identify the signs of certain psychiatric, developmental, age-related, cognitive and substance abuse disorders, and to then resolve the situation without escalation. The program is in its 17th year.
"If somebody can come out with a solution to that problem, where officers don't have to use deadly force, that's a wonderful thing," Royce said. "Everybody is looking for a better solution."