Bang! Colorado cops increasingly using lasso device fueled by gunpowder to detain people from afar
August 15, 2021
By: Elise Schmelzer
Fifteen agencies in the state are using the BolaWrap, which is used to fire a Kevlar tether at someone’s legs.
The man wandered through the dark parking lot shouting unintelligibly as Glenwood Springs police officers trailed him.
He’d been running through traffic and officers wanted to stop him before he got hurt. But the man didn’t heed their commands, body camera footage of the incident shows. After one final warning, the officers deployed the department’s newest tool with an explosive bang.
A Kevlar tether hurtled toward the man and wrapped around his legs. The lassoed man fell to the ground, screaming but uninjured, and police were able to keep him in one place long enough to hand him over to the care of paramedics.
The lassoing device, called a BolaWrap, is a new tool being used by a growing number of Colorado law enforcement agencies to detain non-compliant people without firing a Taser or hitting them. Fifteen departments in the state either use or are training to use the device, which has skyrocketed in popularity in the wake of the 2020 protests against police brutality.
“Now we have a tool to use to de-escalate things very rapidly,” Glenwood Springs police Chief Joseph Deras said.
The BolaWrap shoots a 7-foot-6-inch tether at a person with a bang, just like a gun. That’s because it uses gunpowder, earning it a designation as a firearm by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Kevlar tether then wraps around the target’s legs or arms and small metal fishhooks at the ends of the tether are designed to grab clothing to keep it in place.
The tether shoots out of the handheld device at a speed of 350 mph and can travel up to 25 feet, according to the company.
The goal is to give police a tool to restrain people while keeping their distance and without resorting to devices that inflict pain, like Tasers, said Tom Smith, CEO of Wrap Technologies, the company that sells the device, and a founder of the Taser company.
“Everyone’s been looking for a way to stop someone without hurting them,” Smith said. “It’s not the magic bullet — that doesn’t exist, unfortunately. But you have to have tools in the toolbox.”
The company specifically markets the BolaWrap as a tool to be used in confrontations with unarmed people under the influence or who are experiencing mental health crises.
“Non-compliant subjects in mental crisis and drug-impaired subjects are often incapable of comprehending commands of officers,” the company states on its website. “BolaWrap enables officers to safely and humanely take subjects into custody without injury to get them the help they need.”
The BolaWrap is an improvement over Tasers but will likely further agitate people in crisis, said Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. The bang of the device and the realization of suddenly being confined will not calm someone down, he said.
“It’s way better than shooting or tasing or clubbing people,” Atchity said. “If we could get the cops to give up all their guns and clubs and use only magical spider-web devices, that would be a good step in a better direction. But I think it would be better for police to learn how to better communicate and manage people instead of relying on devices to protect and serve.”