It sounds like a gun, but it isn’t a gun. Here’s how the latest in police tech, BolaWrap, is used to detain suspects.

It sounds like a gun, but it isn’t a gun. It’s non-lethal, and police say it’s a game-changer when it comes to detaining suspects without use of force.

SAN ANTONIO — It’s been referred to as a superhero-like tool being used in police takedowns. 

An emerging technology called BolaWrap is being utilized by law enforcement across the country, including in the San Antonio area. Dubbed a “remote restraint device,” it sounds like a gun when it’s deployed. 

But no one is getting shot. 

“It is truly a paradigm shift in law enforcement,” said Terry Nichols said, director of business development for Wrap Technologies. 

He likes to describe it in a way most would understand.

“It’s (like) Spider-Man,” he said. “It is literally a rope, a small rope, that is being deployed out of a device that looks like a garage door opener or a stud finder.”

Nichols said it was invented in 2017 in response to a “rash of shootings” involving police, a large number of those confrontations involving individuals with mental illness.

 “They said there’s got to be a better way, a more humane way to treat people who are ill.”        

He said the rope is deployed from between 10 and 25 feet, with police targeting the legs or forearms of who they’re detaining.

“Their eyes will immediately look down to see, ‘What just hit me?'” he said. “And that gives these officers the chance to close the distance very quickly while they are distracted by the noise. They are looking down to see what just impacted (their) legs.”

Nichols has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He used to be an officer and was the police chief in Seguin.

“You look at an officer’s duty belt or their vest today, and it hasn’t changed in 30 years,” he said. “This is the first real change you’ve seen in law enforcement since the invention of the Taser.”

Nichols says the BolaWrap, which is the size of a phone, is currently being used by 1,100 agencies across the U.S., as well as 63 countries. Among those agencies: police departments in Detroit and Seattle. 

Putting it to the test

I wanted to see how the new technology worked firsthand. 

I was suited up in jeans, sweatpants, glasses, even earplugs. For the demonstration, Nichols and Seguin police had me stand in place in a parking lot. The two gave me commands as they would if they were trying to get someone in custody. 

As part of the test, I didn’t comply. I didn’t run, either; I stood still. 

It was about 10 seconds later that I was wrapped two times, one after another. The ropes wrapped twice around my legs, essentially immobilizing me. The ropes are tied with sharp, silver hooks. 

And given how loud the sound is when BolaWrap is deployed, you aren’t sure where to look. The sound provides distraction out of confusion, because you aren’t sure what happened in the moment to cause the noise. 

That’s the moment when officers will move in to make the arrest.

Being used in Seguin

This year, the Seguin Police Department (SPD) started using the new equipment. Officer Cullen Machac now carries it along with all his other tools.

“It is new, we are all learning,” he said. “I think it is a great stepping stone of what has been missing.”

KENS 5 obtained body camera video from a recent incident where a Seguin police officer used the device to take down a suspect they say was wanted on a warrant.  According to police, the unidentified man fled on foot from officers to an apartment.

The technology has been around since 2017, and is now used by more than 1,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies.

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In the video provided by SPD, the man can be seen emerging from an entryway at the complex. An officer can be heard ordering him to stop and put his hands behind his back.

The suspect, police say, wasn’t intending to stop but was instead preparing to run again. The officer yells, “Bola, bola, bola!” and deploys the device, which sounds like a gunshot.

The suspect appears confused after the BolaWrap is deployed as rope is wrapped around his legs. The officer then moves in to arrest him.

When do officers use it?

Nichols said every scenario is different when it comes to using BolaWrap.

“It is usually someone in a mental crisis,” he said about when the technology is used. “We want to use it early in an encounter, so before things escalate. This is designed for the low levels. If there is a fight already going on, officers have tools for that.”

Nichols said, at times, he wonders about if the device would have been available while he was an officer.

“I think about all the force reviews I had seen, how many of those could have been prevented had we had that technology at the time,” he said.

He said officers go through training to use the device before hitting the streets with it. 

“It is less injuries to them and less injuries for the people on the streets as well,” Nichols said.

In terms of price, he says it can cost up to $1,6000 to completely outfit a police officer. Other local agencies using BolaWrap include San Marcos police, Buda police and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.  

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