Police across the country are adding a new weapon to their belts, and civil rights groups aren't thrilled about it.
Police departments in Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas have started training with BolaWrap, an "electronic lasso" that shoots a 25-foot cord that wraps around a suspect's legs or waist. It's framed as non-lethal way to restrain people, but activists say it's just an excuse to avoid using de-escalation tactics that don't involve getting physically involved with people at all.
Lindey Markert, who goes to police departments and trains them on using BolaWrap, tells NBC4 Washington "it's not a pain compliance tool. A lot of other things on our belts — OC spray, a baton and a TASER — rely on pain to stop somebody." Police who've trained with it similarly say they've never been hurt when they're wrapped, though there's a sharp, fishing-hook-like end piece on the cord that can pierce someone's skin.
But Human Rights Watch warns it's dangerous to think of BolaWrap as a "less lethal option" for restraint, as it prioritizes inflicting less pain rather than working on negotiation tactics that use no pain at all. The group also calls out BolaWrap for specifically marketing for its use on people with mental health conditions, which "unfairly stigmatizes people with mental health conditions as dangerous." It goes on to note that electronic control devices like TASERs have been disproportionately used on Black people, and says "it is legitimate to fear that black and brown people will be the targets of more police abuse of new technological weapons, like BolaWrap."
The Los Angeles Police Department and others around the country have also started deploying BolaWrap, and it's safe to say its use will only be scrutinized more as conversations about police use of force grow. Kathryn Krawczyk