Fresno police are testing a new tool, seemingly designed with a nod to Spiderman, that Chief Jerry Dyer hopes can be used to control a suspect or an emotionally disturbed person with minimum of force or pain.
The BolaWrap device is fired by an officer and throws a cord of high-strength fiber around the legs of a non-compliant subject, allowing officers time to bring the suspect into custody.
Dyer introduced the device Friday and said 40 to 50 of the implements would be tested by officers. It would be an option to other so-called “less-lethal” devices, including bean bag shotgun rounds, Taser stun guns and tactical batons.
The chief said that unlike the other implements, the BolaWrap does not rely on pain compliance; rather, it is designed to temporarily immobilize a suspect. Unlike when a Taser is used, proponents say the target of the Bolawrap would be able to catch a fall through the use of their hands, since their nervous system is not immobilized.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
The Kevlar cord in the BolaWrap is propelled by a reduced-power blank 9 mm cartridge and aimed with a laser light. It has an effective range of about 20 feet.
Officers in crisis intervention teams, who often deal with persons suffering from mental health issues, would be among the first to carry the BolaWrap in January, along with Special Response Team officers. The devices cost about $850 apiece. If its use is successful, Dyer said it might be something every officer could carry.
“The question is always asked: ‘Is there a better way to handle the situation? Could less force have been used,’ ” Dyer said about use-of-force incidents.
Dyer also noted that more than 40 percent of the time that police respond to a call in Fresno, it involves someone in a mental health crisis.
“It adds another tool that can be used to deescalate (a situation),” said Dyer, and he noted people in a mental health crisis can be a danger to themselves and others.
The device could give police more time to avoid a deadly split-second decision, Dyer said. The chief added that officers did not have that time recently, when his friend and former Fresno Police Captain Marty West, reportedly suffering from mental health issues, charged two officers with a large knife and was mortally wounded by police gunfire.
Dyer volunteered himself as a BolaWrap target during Friday’s presentation. A company representative fired the device, which wrapped cord around the chief’s legs. He said being hit with the cord resulted in a mild stinging sensation. Two officers in the department’s training unit also subjected themselves to the test and were brought to the ground when tripped.
Would the cord choke someone if it was accidentally fired high and hit a person’s neck?
BolaWrap representatives said no, and fired at a test dummy, showing the string was not restrictive enough to stop a person from breathing.