With the push of a button — and a loud bang — an 8-foot cord shot out of the remote-controlled device and entangled the legs of Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight.
A smile crept across his face. “It didn’t hurt,” Knight said. “It was sort of like a slap.”
Chaska soon will be the first law enforcement agency in Minnesota to test BolaWrap 100, a nonlethal restraint designed to enable police to incapacitate individuals with minimal to no pain.
The gizmo, which discharges a Kevlar tether at a rate of 640 feet per second, is something you might see Batman deploy to stop a fleeing criminal.
But as police departments across the country explore ways to de-escalate mental health crises without resorting to deadly force, Knight foresees a technological game-changer. He plans to invest $6,500 in the equipment.
“The moment I saw this device, I knew that we needed to have it,” he said. “This is one of the biggest advancements I’ve seen in my 43-year career. I wish I’d had this tool when I was an officer.”
Unlike traditional Tasers, the BolaWrap 100 doesn’t stimulate pain to force cooperation. The remote control-sized unit uses a blank 9mm charge to propel a thin cord, tipped with two barbed ends resembling fish hooks, around a person’s arms or legs — immobilizing individuals up to 25 feet away.
Though it’s not meant to replace the use of a firearm or Taser, officers across the metro area hope it might offer an additional tool for responders to safely detain people on drugs or in the middle of a mental health situation.
Mike Rothans, chief operating officer of Wrap Technologies, said former officers designed the BolaWrap with mental health crises in mind. Now it’s being marketed as an early-intervention tool to restrain suspects before a situation escalates.
As a retired assistant sheriff from Los Angeles, Rothans used to meet with the families of police shooting victims.
“They all said the same exact thing: ‘We called for help and you came out and shot my son,’ ” he told a room full of police chiefs, beat cops and potential investors. “It seems like we can do more — and we should do more.”
In training scenarios, the BolaWrap recorded a 90 percent success rate. Tasers, in comparison, deploy correctly about half the time.
Each unit runs about $800 and cartridges cost $30 each. Local grocer Michael Foods donated $5,000 to help Chaska police equip the department with half a dozen units. The rest of the money will come from drug-forfeiture funds, Knight said, not taxpayer dollars.
Twin Cities investor Dennis LaValle seemed impressed with the product during the demonstration at the Chaska fire station. He said he purchased $15,000 worth of stock in the company, sight unseen.
“These days, everybody’s got a camera. Everyone is taking shots at them,” he said of police. “This takes away a lot of the exposure.”
While there’s not much space left on an officer’s utility belt, advocates for the gadget said it would reduce the probability of using lethal force. To demonstrate the point, Rothans showed a video of an encounter between South Carolina police and an unarmed 86-year-old man with dementia, who landed in intensive care after being Tased.
“It’s what it does to our profession when these type of things come out in the news,” he said. “Everybody knows there has to be a better way.”
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648