Standing before 20 cameras, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore stood motionless Monday as a sergeant pointed a laser at the chief’s leg to demonstrate a new gadget that will hit the streets next month.
A loud boom echoed across the Police Academy grounds, and a Kevlar cord wrapped around Moore’s legs to prevent him from running away. He could only shuffle his feet and needed scissors to cut the cord from his dark blue pants. The new device, 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 device resembles a gadget on a superhero’s utility belt and will soon be in the hands of several hundred officers to help detain individuals without using force. The Times reported last week that the Los Angeles Police Department would test the devices for free for several months. The department began rolling them out Monday.
Moore volunteered to be lassoed to show that the devices cause minimal, if any, pain when it’s fired.
“This is meant to keep us from going hands on,” Moore said about situations in which officers would use the device. “We are giving our people a lot of tools.”
The handheld device 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.
Though the wrap devices have been tested at dozens of agencies across the United States, the LAPD will be the biggest department to add them to its arsenal of tools.
The LAPD has been working with Las Vegas-based Wrap Technologies for a year to modify the devices to add lasers and change the color to green to signify it is not a lethal device, Moore said. The department’s Tasers are also green.
The devices will be spread across the city to the LAPD’s 21 geographic stations and some will go to SWAT officers. At the end of a four-month trial, Moore said the department will examine instances in which officers deployed the devices and the outcomes.
The chief emphasized that the devices are another tool to help officers deal with people with mental illnesses or others may who refuse to comply with orders. The wraps, he said, will not be used on people who run away or toward officers. He predicted officers would use them on people with knives or sticks, giving officers valuable seconds to distract suspects.
“It’s a tool for us to deal with challenging circumstances,” he said.
Moore said the LAPD is using the devices because it is committed to reducing the number of cases in which officers must use lethal force. Through Monday, officers were involved in 26 shootings this year. The figure was 31 at this point last year, Moore said. To build community trust, the department is looking for tools to help save lives, he added.
Mike Rothans, chief operating officer at Wrap Technologies and retired assistant sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said the barbs create a “very small puncture” when the tether wraps around a person and could cause more pain if the person tries to pull the cords off. The company, he said, worked with the LAPD to improve the weapon in the last year.
“This gives us a lot of credibility,” Rothans said about the LAPD testing the devices. “We took into consideration their suggestions.”