Ken, wearing a black hoodie and loose-fitting blue jeans, stood straight with his arms pressed flat to his side. He didn’t speak and barely moved. Obscured beneath the bill of his black baseball cap, his eyes stared off from a man standing about 10 feet away.
The man pointed a black rectangle, about the size of two cellphones stuck together, at Ken and counted down from three.
A gunshot rang out, sending with it a thin piece of yellow cord. It wrapped around Ken’s torso, tying his hands down at his sides and effectively immobilizing him — not that Ken, a dummy, could move in the first place.
It’s the principle that mattered.
Police who gathered to see Michael Rothan’s demonstration outside the Park City Police Department on Wednesday could see the potential for the Batman-esque contraption, especially when it comes to officers’ increasing number of interactions with mentally ill or intoxicated people.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all tool,” Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter said. “Sometimes a Taser might be over the top. So this gives us another option that we might be able to use to restrain somebody with a less [than] lethal force option.”
Park City police are among 15 agencies from across the country slated to test the tool, which is touted as a non-painful alternative to other so-called compliance garnering tools, like pepper balls, batons or stun guns. Departments in Madison, Wisconsin; Ferguson, Missouri; Knoxville, Tennessee; and elsewhere will also try out the BolaWrap, said Rothans, who works with Wrap Technologies, Inc.
If testing goes well and the department can afford them, Carpenter said he plans to purchase them for his officers. The devices cost about $800, and the reusable cord cartridges are about $30.
Rothans, who worked in law enforcement for more than three decades, said that after seeing officers shoot or stun mentally ill people, he thought there had to be a better approach. He said he thinks the BolaWrap is that better way.
The device uses a half-charged 9mm blank (hence the bang when deployed) to shoot an 8-foot Kevlar cord, with two prongs at each end, at 640 feet per second. It’s meant to strike an uncooperative individual and wrap around their legs or arms to incapacitate them.
Rothans said someone would have to exert 380 pounds of force to break through the cord.
“Most other tools or weapons that law enforcement carry are pain compliance tools,” Rothans said. “...This tool is about restraint. There’s no pain involved.”
The device first reminded Carpenter of Spiderman, Marvel’s web-slinging superhero. Ken Carpenter, Parowan’s police chief, said he’d only seen something like it on TV.
Yet, with law enforcement use of force under increased scrutiny, and with police at times serving as de-facto mental health responders — officers at the demonstration said the device could have a real impact on how they police their communities.
Ken Carpenter said there are often times when his officers encounter intoxicated or mentally ill people and feel that those individuals pose a significant risk to officers and the public. While in those situations police officers can use lethal force — and more often than not, are found justified in doing so — it’d be useful to have another tool, especially one that doesn’t inflict pain, he said.
“We want to be able to use the appropriate force to take them into custody, protect them, get them the help they need,” Ken Carpenter said. “Sometimes those options are very limited.”
Wade Carpenter said it’s too early to tell when (and if) his department would begin using the device in the field.