By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – As the use of force continuum used by law enforcement across the country has become a national dialogue, McDowell County officers are considering the use of a more humane tool that can restrain an individual from 25 feet away.
Last Friday, Gary City Police hosted a demonstration for regional law enforcement, introducing the new BolaWrap device, at the Jack Caffrey Arts and Cultural Center in Welch.
“I have a bad habit of looking at the internet at night and a BolaWrap video popped up,” said Gary City Police Chief S.P. McKinney. “I’m like ‘God we need that.’ The reason I did, that night Deputy Sheriff’s of McDowell County were dealing with a naked methamphetamine overdose. This is a device that could be used for that.”
McKinney reached out to the company by email and received a phone call shortly after from a BolaWrap representative to arrange a demonstration. Staff from Welch City Police, Steven’s Correctional Center, McDowell County Sheriff’s Office and county officials attended Friday as well as Buckhannon County, VA Sheriff’s Office and Beckley Police Department.
BolaWrap master instructor Rodney Sherrod, a retired police commander from Lexington, KY led the demonstration for the device.
“BolaWrap originally came about to handle people with mental illness,” said Sherrod. “You’ve got to think, all the tools we have focus on pain compliance so we wanted something in our toolbelt that could change that.”
Sherrod said the BolaWrap project began 5 years ago when inventor Woody Norris was asked if he could adapt his Long Range Acoustice Device (LRAD) technology into a taser-sized device. LRAD is a device resembling a satellite dish that emits a high frequency noise that has even been used by cruise ships to deter modern day pirates.
“Norris went to his drawing board, so to speak, but after 6 months, he says I can’t do it but I’ve got an idea,” said Sherrod. “He was fascinated with the Argentinian cowboys, or gauchos. They actually used a bola, a rope with weighted ends used to hunt. So he said why don’t we use a device like this?”
Sherrod spoke about the growing rate of mental illness troubles across the nation, saying they’ve compounded by 10 compared to 5 years ago.
“How do we as law enforcement deal with these type of people that are in crisis? They really need treatment right, but our hands are so tied behind our backs,” said Sherrod. “What originally started as a tool for mental illness, we’ve come to the conclusion that this is a great tool for dealing with people in more humane ways such as those that are uncooperative, passively resistant, facing psychosis, deliruium, or under the influence of narcotics. This has a broad spectrum here.”
Another goal of the BolaWrap device is to reduce agency liability without sacrificing officer safety, said Sherrod from a place of understanding, having worked with the Risk Management Department during his time in Lexington.
“A lot of people take shortcuts, but don’t look out for officer safety,” said Sherrod. “This is a great tool for both of those. When we train these officers, we try to fill in the gaps in the use of force continuum. What we truly believe this belongs is between the verbal commands the officer gives and the pain compliance tools. If you think about it, what do we really have in there?”
Sherrod spoke about the other tools used by police officers, from the school of thought of using pain in order to ensure compliance, such as tasers, pepper spray, and batons.
“Those can actually escalate the situation into an officer involved shooting,” said Sherrod. “Houston PD is a pretty big department, they had 4 officer involved shooting in a 45-day period. They saw the need for a new tool so we met with their Chief of staff. Now they’ve bought several to deploy out on the streets in hopes of reducing that rate.”
Sherrod showed surveillance footage of a police encounter at a University where a man armed with a knife ignored all verbal commands, inching closer and closer to the officers until they fired their pistol.
“The guy was having a mental health crisis, he called on himself actually. It was suicide by cop call,” said Sherrod. “The officers didn’t have any other options. They had a gun and a pair of handcuffs. A lot of universities across the country are saying the OC spray, the taser, are a little too inhumane to deploy on these kids.”
The problem according to Sherrod is that mental issues can hit freshman college students who have left their comfort zone for the first time in life.
“If they had a BolaWrap, they could’ve taken him into custody to get the help he desperately needed,” said Sherrod. “We are bar none saying this is the only device, but another tool to aid officers with de-escalating the situation. This is not meant to be used in a gunfight. It is meant to be used early in the situation to decrease the risk of officer injury.”
“If an 8 year old has a knife, do you hit them with the OC spray, a taser, or tackle them on the ground,” asked Sherrod to the audience. “What about the grandfather that has dementia. How many times has that happened to you?”
The device itself is about the size of a remote, weighing twelve ounces and made of plastic. The only electronic piece is a laser sight as well as vibration in the handle letting the officer know its on. Firing out at 513-feet per second, fellow master instructor Michael Caprioli described the device as a pair of handcuffs able to deploy from 25 feet away. As it travels, the velocity sharply drops, traveling to 270 feet per second at the recommended distance of 10 feet.
“The recommended target area is elbows to wrists and thighs to ankles,” said Sherrod during the demonstration.
The restraint itself is an 8 foot Kevlar cord with two weighted anchors featuring No. 12 fishhooks to secure the cord in place.
“These aren’t intended to dig into the skin, but to secure the rope. The rope itself is discharged from the device using a .380 partial blank so it has the sound of small caliber gunfire,” said Sherrod. “It needs that propellant because all of this is pretty heavy. By 60 feet, it just drops.”
BolaWrap in currently being used in 44 states domestically and 29 countries across the globe, with Friday’s demonstration being the first use in West Virginia.
“This is not intended to be the only tool and leave all the pain compliance devices at home. This is for those that are non-compliant, mentally ill, or just someone not cooperating that doesn’t justify the use of pain compliance tools,” said Sherrod.
Sherrod also took questions from those in attendance about operation and maintenance of the device, training and legal guidance on use in the field. Afterwards, visitors were treated to live demonstrations as well as practice themselves.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people turning out for the demonstration,” said Chief McKinney after the event. “I was pleased with everyone seeing the demo left wanting one. I think this can de-escalate some issues, save lives, if we can get these devices in McDowell County.”
McKinney said he had sent correspondence to Delegates Ed Evans and Sue Cline as well as Senator Mark Maynard and Sue Cline, urging the use of recent opioid response funding to purchase a device for officers across McDowell County.
“I also want to comment on the support of area media,” said McKinney. “I have never seen members of the press so excited and willing to participate at a law enforcement event, promoting it the way they did. This story went out to over 10,000 people and I’ve already had people coming up to me saying they support the device.”