MALONE — The bang of a .380 cartridge being fired shattered the quiet on Arsenal Green outside the village police station last week.
The shot came not from a firearm, but a device police are hoping to add to their toolkit to be used when guns, or even electronic stun devices, would not be the preferred response.
The device, called a BolaWrap, is a “less-lethal” alternative to the more common equipment most law enforcement officers now carry, David Morgan, a master instructor with Wrap Technologies, told officers from Malone and several other nearby communities prior to a demonstration of the appliance.
The BolaWrap fires a 10-foot-long Kevlar cord that is weighted at both ends, similar to the bolas used primarily in South America to entangle prey. The cord, which is expelled from the device by the .380 cartridge, spreads as it flies through the air and, upon striking its target, wraps around it, effectively preventing movement that would allow the target to run away or fight back.
The device enables police to subdue a person without using the more tradition “pain compliance” tools at their disposal, said Morgan, a retired police captain from New Jersey.
The BolaWrap uses a laser aiming system that allows police to restrain a person’s arms or legs, whichever is most appropriate to the situation, Morgan said. More than one BolaWrap can be deployed if police deem it necessary to restrain both arms and legs, he said.
The composition of the cord makes it virtually impossible for anyone to break it and escape before police can take them into custody, he added.
Morgan demonstrated the device on several police officers, a political candidate and reporter.
The cord, which leaves the device at more than 500 feet per second, is invisible as it flies toward its target, and it arrives so fast evasive action is impossible. It wraps around the arms or legs, but not so tightly it is painful.
The only pain came when the weights at the end of the cord struck the person being restrained, but it felt like little more than a sharp tap.
Despite the safety of the device, Morgan said he could not call it nonlethal because anything could potentially cause a fatal injury. However, the BolaWrap is highly unlikely to cause even a minor injury, he said.
The weights at the end of the cord contain four barbless fishhooks — designed to secure them to clothing — that could puncture skin, but they are so short any wound they cause could be addressed by a simply bandage. And even if the cord were to wind around a person’s neck — users are trained not aim above the shoulders and the laser system makes poor aim unlikely — it does not wrap tight enough to cause strangulation, Morgan said.
The BolaWrap could not be used in all situation — especially those in which the target has a firearm — but it enables police to restrain a subject from 10 to 15 feet away, protecting both them and the subject from injury, Morgan said. It is particularly useful in situations involving a person having a mental health crisis — situations that have become far too common for law enforcement — allowing authorities to subdue the person without physical violence, he said.
Malone Police Chief Chris Premo said he is interested in having his department purchase several of the $900 devices, possibly using asset forfeiture funds — money most often seized during drug arrests.