Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers unveiled a new weapon called the BolaWrap, a contraption that allows an officer to restrain someone from a distance of up to 25 feet.
The lasso-shooting device is part of a media blitz by the department to prove its less harmful credentials, promoting weapons to restrain or otherwise incapacitate people. At a media event on May 15, officers showed off the BolaWrap alongside the department’s other “less lethal” weapons, including Tasers, pepper spray and 40-millimeter foam bullets.
“It just gives more options for officers to not have to escalate the situation or potentially cause more injury,” said SPD Chief Adrian Diaz. “And so having this tool really helps our officers, helping potentially reduce that level of injury.”
Wrap Technologies, the company that manufactures the BolaWrap, markets the weapon as a way to restrain people experiencing behavioral health crises without hurting them.
However, in a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, researchers found that the BolaWrap and other weapons like stun guns could result in increased police violence against populations who are stigmatized by society, including mentally ill, poor, Black, Brown and Indigenous people.
SPD refused to disclose the cost of the new weapons.
Diaz was joined by Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who talked up the BolaWrap as part of an effort to reduce force used by police.
“Less-lethal tools are only allowed to be used in scenarios they are determined to be reasonable, necessary, and proportional in response to a public safety risk in order to protect people from imminent physical injury,” Herbold wrote in a statement.
Officers said that the department also plans to acquire new Tasers later in the fall with a longer range and the ability to shoot up to 10 times, as opposed to only two times with the current model.
Diaz said that the BolaWrap will be considered the least severe non-lethal use of force, followed by pepper spray, stun guns and 40-millimeter foam bullets. Every officer will be expected to carry at least one less-lethal weapon.
According to an April 2022 SPD Monitor report, Seattle police officers committed 932 protest-related uses of force during the 2020 George Floyd uprising. When asked how residents could trust SPD after this mass brutality against protestors, Diaz said that the department was making progress and already seeing the amount of force drop.
“We’re actually on a downward trend,” Diaz said. “Last year, we were at like 38 percent less use-of-force incidents. This year, we’re already trending in that right direction. So we’re trying to make sure that we’re giving our officers the right equipment and tools to be able to hopefully deescalate a situation, but not only when they have to use force, hopefully not having a significant injury.
“So again, you know,” he said, “people will have trust, but we gotta build that trust up.”
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Read more of the May 24-30, 2023 issue.