The national conversation about police use of force has intensified since George Floyd’s death, which has brought up the discussion around a restraint tool with a lower risk.
At Wrap Technologies in Arizona, they make a device by hand that looks to be part of the solution. The device is called the BolaWrap.
“Everything about the device is about de-escalation,” Tom Smith, the president and CEO of Wrap Technologies, said.
The BolaWrap is a device for law enforcement. It’s pointed like a TV remote at someone to retrain them, and releases a kevlar rope with anchors.
“How often do we get cell phones? It feels like they come out every month with a new one but the last technology that came to law enforcement to help them solve these situations was the taser 20 years ago,” Smith said.
This isn’t Smith’s first time overseeing the development of tools for police.
“I started Taser with my brother back in 1993” he said.
We first showed you the BolaWrap when it launched back in 2019. Since then, it’s been adopted by over 500 agencies in the U.S.
“I believe this is going to end up on every officer's belt,” he said.
It only takes a few minutes for anyone to learn how to use the BolaWrap.
“Everything about this is really simple to use,” Smith said.
He explained that their focus is spending time on how to use it and in what scenarios. Some of that training is done through methods like virtual reality.
The company has been collecting body cam footage for the past couple of years from departments across the country to show real-life scenarios where it has been used.
“You don't build a house with just a hammer. There's multiple tools that everybody needs to do these different jobs, and this tool is designed for intervention, apprehension, early in that scenario,” Smith said.
Or another tool in the toolbelt, so to speak.
“The more things that are put on that toolbelt, the more that the officer has to process, sometimes in a really quick period of time, of what I’m going to use and that could put them at a disadvantage at times,” William Terrill, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, said.
Terrill said adding another tool can be beneficial, but also overwhelming. He’s watched as the discussion around police use of force has been happening for decades.
“What is new is the public is, for the first time, seeing use of force being used because of social media, because of body-worn cameras, because of cell phone footage,” he said. “The more attention that's paid to the coercive element of policing, I think, the better because it pushes innovation.”
Innovations like the BolaWrap.
In a statement, the Tempe, Arizona police -- a department using the BolaWrap -- told us:
“The Tempe Police Department is training constantly to improve our de-escalation and resolution efforts.
We strive to be very attuned to individuals that may be suffering from mental illness or dementia, disoriented, or potentially impaired. The BolaWrap technology tool gives us a greater array of options – especially in situations such as occurred here, on a busy night in downtown, when the individual was not responding to our Officers’ directions, and unaware that he was putting others and himself at risk amid vehicle traffic." - Chief of Police Jeffrey Glover
“It doesn't solve every scenario, there's nothing that does. But it can solve a lot of these scenarios where unfortunately those other videos that have gone viral because of the really tragic ending, we’re trying to avoid those,” Smith said.
Terrill and Smith say agencies can be slow to change.
“Policy development around use of force has been fairly slow. I do think that in the past 5 years, post-George Floyd, that departments are reassessing their policies more frequently,” Terrill said.
“We are seeing movement. It just happens slow because it's the government and government doesn't do anything quick,” Smith said.
But they’re both seeing departments interested in looking at policy changes.
“It’s certainly going to solve a lot of these scenarios every day that law enforcement face that they have to take somebody into custody, and you don't want to have to hurt them,” Smith said.