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Valuable tool for policing

Plattsburg Press-Republican

They’re nerve-wracking scenes.

A man, clearly in distress and acting erratically, has been running in traffic at night.

A male suspect, intoxicated and violent, has been threatening his wife and children.

They’re the types of police calls that have gained national attention in recent years: Where a suspect has to be halted and restrained for their own and other’s safety.

How to handle those situations while keeping the officers, suspects and bystanders safe is a question of our time with few easy answers.

But WRAP Technologies, the creators of the BolaWrap remote restraint device, might have one possible piece of that puzzle.

Videos of the above scenarios were shown as part of a demonstration of the BolaWrap held for the press and local police agencies at South Plattsburgh Fire Department’s Station 1 Wednesday morning.

Firing a length of Kevlar cord at a suspect’s legs, the device aims to quickly restrain the subject while minimizing the potential for harm.

It was a dramatic and effective showcase, the “bolos” wrapping themselves smoothly around demonstrators’ legs while the loud bang of the device firing jolted everyone in the room to attention.

Naturally, one can’t help but look at the little yellow box and think of the last major “restrain from a distance” policing tool: The taser.

Delivering electric shocks through metal barbs into a person’s skin, the taser is intended to accomplish much the same goal: To bring stability to an unstable situation.

But nearly half a century after the first Taser prototype was invented, research such as a 2012 study in the journal Circulation has shown that the device’s shocks have the potential to cause serious injuries and medical conditions including cardiac arrest.

The less intense methods of tools like the BolaWrap seem designed to directly address those concerns. There’s no electricity, no chemicals, just rope and two four-pronged hooks at each end that help “anchor” it around a subject.

Of course, this begs the question: How good is the device at restraining people without the stunning spark of a taser?

To the demonstrators’ credit, they took a number of questions about the device’s effectiveness in different scenarios: When someone is running, when they’re overweight, when they’re wearing bulky clothing.

Ultimately, the answer they gave came down to the fact that it’s not a magic bullet. It won’t fit all situations perfectly. But it’s one more option that police could have other than “pain compliance.”

Again, the question of non-lethal and less-than-lethal policing is a puzzle that will take many different pieces to solve: A mix of policy, training and technology.

There will be critics on all sides picking this device apart for not being enough to solve the question of policing in the United States.

With that often being a question of life and death, they are right to do so.

But from what we observed at the demonstration, the BolaWrap has the potential to help avert the tragedies we’ve become too accustomed to mourning, and we should all be behind that goal.

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