Los Angeles Police To Begin Testing ‘Batman-Style’ Gadget To Entangle Suspects

A hybrid police car is seen at the unveiling of two new Ford Fusion hybrid pursuit-rated Police Responder cars at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on April 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently announced plans to train hundreds of officers to use a new gizmo designed to subdue suspects without using violent force.

According to the L.A. Times, the device resembles “a gadget on Batman’s utility belt,” referring to the fictional comic book superhero who has generally relied on non-lethal strategies to fight crime.

The Times reports:

The tool, called the BolaWrap 100, fires a Kevlar cord that ensnares an individual’s body to restrict mobility, giving officers seconds to swarm the person without using more drastic measures such as a Taser or gun.

The handheld device, made by Las Vegas-based Wrap Technologies, sounds like a gun when it deploys a tether to entangle someone between 10 and 25 feet away. Barbs attached to the end of the tether grab hold of the person as it wraps around their arms or legs.

LAPD, the third-largest police force in the nation, will begin testing the BolaWrap in January as part of a 90-day pilot program. The department said 200 of the devices would be distributed to police officers after they have been trained. Several officials told the Times that the tool “is not something officers would use to counter suspects with firearms,” but it could be used against persons armed with knives or other weapons.

The BolaWrap is promoted as a restraint apparatus that could potentially buy time for law enforcement to de-escalate volatile situations without resulting in injury, especially encounters involving mentally ill individuals and folks under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“The device addresses those concerns in ways that create trust by dealing with people differently,” said Mike Rothans, Chief Operating Officer at Wrap Technologies and retired Assistant Sheriff from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s a real paradigm shift of trying to restrain someone without hurting them.”

Rothans said that the BolaWrap is not strong enough to choke a suspect, claiming, “It will wrap around your neck, but the person will still be able to breathe and be able to fit their hand between the cord and their neck.”

John Raphling, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the BBC that non-lethal weapons don’t necessarily reduce excessive force employed by police officers.

“Tools like these create the illusion that police enforcement is going to be less violent,” Raphling said. “The reality is that – as we’ve seen with tasers and other less lethal weapons – they will be used to expand police violence. Rather than giving more power to police, we should be rethinking what the role of police is in our country.”

The Fort Worth (TX) Police Department was the first policing agency to use the BolaWrap in the field, while cops in Hendersonville, North Carolina, have also started training to implement the new technology. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office announced last month that 20 deputies would begin testing the tool. In October, the Fresno Police Department detained a man with a BolaWrap after he had stabbed two people on a downtown street.

LAPD publicly revealed its plan to deploy the devices last week after Democratic presidential contender Julián Castro and Black Lives Matter gathered outside department headquarters to protest the fatal officer-involved shooting of Grechario Mack. According to City News Service, Mack was shot and killed by two LAPD officers last year after he ran through a shopping center waving a foot-long kitchen knife. Mack was reportedly already on the floor when the final shots were fired.

Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter@JeffreyCawood.