THOMASBORO — There are safer ways to restrain non-combative individuals. That’s what representatives from several area agencies learned Monday.
The BolaWrap system shoots a Kevlar tether that has links on each end with barbs that has an effective range of 10 to 25 feet. The tether travels at 513 feet per second.
“You can use it to wrap their legs, wrap their arms,” said Thomasboro Police Chief Eric Shumate, whose department is believed to be the first in the area to buy one of the devices.
The nonviolent restraining equipment can be used on people with mental health issues, suicidal issues and those who are under the influence of drugs.
“It’s a de-escalation tool you can use, restrain them and hopefully talk to them, or, if you need to, you can approach them with a lot more safety in mind rather than rushing them or taking them down, hopefully with no injuries to anybody,” Shumate said.
The device is equipped with a green laser site for greater accuracy.
Joining Thomasboro police at the demonstration were officers from the University of Illinois, Urbana, Rantoul, Tolono and Homer police departments.
Judah Meiteles, senior marketing director for BolaWrap, said each device costs about $1,000, which includes the BolaWrap, cartridges and accessories.
He said the Los Angeles Police Department is the first large agency to use the equipment and is undergoing field tests on it.
“They trained 1,100 officers and are carrying it in the field,” Meiteles said, “but haven’t officially bought it as part of their tool belt. They are in the middle of a pilot project.”
He said after initial testing, LAPD recommended the BolaWrap be changed from a dot laser to a line laser, which the company agreed to.
Meiteles said his company received a much greater interest in the equipment from police departments after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer last year. That includes 3,000 requests for demonstrations and quotes.
He said an officer’s body camera video is available that shows the BolaWrap being used in the field. A mother had called police indicating her son was suicidal.
“He wasn’t complying,” Meiteles said. “They wrapped him, and he went to the ground. It was successful.”
The BolaWrap should be used only in certain situations.
“It’s not for riots and stuff like that or other public groups,” Meiteles said. “It’s not for someone who is combative.”
Shumate said the device is not a taser, and there are no bad side effects.
“My understanding is it’s a rare thing if it penetrates the clothing and tears the skin,” he said.
Shumate said he was looking for better options to restrain individuals and came across the BolaWrap.
“If I use this once, it’s paying for itself,” he said. “The village has approved purchase for one unit” for the two-officer department.
Rantoul police Sgt. Marcus Beach was among those who viewed the demonstration.
He said he can see some benefits to the tool.
“It definitely gives another option for officers to use,” he said. “More options is always a good thing.”
He said he is not sure if he will recommend purchase of the equipment for his department but wouldn’t be opposed to it.
“Having a few of them around in case they are needed wouldn’t be a bad thing either,” Beach said. “It’s very easy to use. I don’t think it would be hard to learn.”
Shumate said he and his fellow officer trained on the equipment for a couple of hours.
“It’s not just pointing and pushing a button,” he said. “There’s a lot of logistics involved for where you aim (elbows to wrists or mid-thigh down to ankles) and areas to stay away from.”
He said the green laser site is the only electrical thing on the BolaWrap. The rest is mechanical.
“Since it is powered by a partial .38 cartridge blank, it’s got some kick in it, so you have to hold it as steady as you can, because the recoil can make your hand jump a little bit.”