SFPD may consider new 'lasso tool' to detain non-violent suspects. Here's how it works

Stephanie Sierra Image
Friday, October 13, 2023
SFPD may consider new 'lasso tool' to detain non-violent suspects
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San Francisco police may consider using BolaWrap, a remote-restraint device that works as a lasso tool to restrain non-violent suspects.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco police may consider utilizing a new tool that's described as 'flying handcuffs.' It's a remote-restraint device known as the BolaWrap designed to be a non-lethal alternative to tasers, guns, or batons.

It sounds like a gun shot, but there's no bullet - it's actually more like a lasso. And it's already being used in more than a dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies.

Here's what it looks like and how it works:

It's an electronic handheld device that shoots out a seven and a half foot cord that wraps around the intended target with two anchors that look like fishing hooks. It requires a three foot clearance around the target to properly deploy.

It's loud and it's fast - shooting out at about 400 feet per second.

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"The device has a seven dot laser," said the company's CEO Kevin Mullins. "Where that is displayed will allow you to point to the individual to let them know this is the wrap zone."

According to Mullins, a typical "wrap zone" is between the mid-thigh to ankle or just above the elbow to the wrist.

The device has been pitched to the San Francisco Police Dept. with the idea officers would deploy it if dealing with individuals who are non-compliant, undergoing a mental health crisis or on drugs.

"No other city in the world could benefit from BolaWrap as much as San Francisco would," Mullins said.

The publicly-traded company headquarters in Arizona first launched in 2017. Each device costs $1,299 and is now being used in 1,100 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. This includes 60 agencies in California and more than a dozen in the Bay Area. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, the Solano County Sheriff's Office, the Walnut Creek, Menlo Park, and Pinole police departments are some of the agencies on that list.


Mullins says the device allows individuals to be detained without pain or injury.

But not everyone agrees.

A 29-year veteran LAPD detective and use of force expert, Timothy T. Williams says the device may not be as safe as promised.

"My issue is losing an eye," Williams said. "If not deployed properly, it could also wrap around the facial area. And if it does that, it could cause permanent damage to the eyes."

The ABC7 News I-Team spoke to the company's CEO about these concerns.

Stephanie Sierra: "You talk about how it's non-pain inducing. What do you say to those you are concerned the hooks could hit someone's eye or the rope scrape their neck?"

Kevin Mullins: "We work with a lot of training and we have different levels of training to ensure proper use of the device."

Sierra: "What about incidents of choking? Have you had any of those?"

Mullins: "Never had an incident like that, it's just physics won't allow it. It will wrap but not tight enough to choke."

Sierra: "How can you be sure it doesn't get into someone's eye?"

Mullins: "If you turn the laser on, it's extremely accurate, it's extremely consistent."

Sierra: "What happens if their aim is off? In a fast moving situation..."

Mullins: "We've never had that happen."


Cat Brooks, the executive director of the Anti-Police Terror Project is concerned about how the device will be used by police.

"It's the same narrative all the time, they are interested in making a profit," said Brooks. "They are not interested in public safety. They're going to say whatever they need to in order to push their product forward."

Williams points out the company's demonstrations online and in-person show an individual with their skin covered.

"If a person doesn't have the benefit of that covering, then those barbs will go into the skin and they hurt," Williams said.

Mullins says the anchors have a safety cap on the end that would prevent any penetration.

"The worst thing you might see are those small anchors go through someone's skin and all you'd need is a Band-Aid," he said. "We've never had any reports of serious injuries. Zero deaths. Zero lawsuits."


Unlike tasers, the company says BolaWraps are not considered to be electronic control devices or ECDs. In fact, Mullins says 98% of the interactions between subjects and law enforcement are not considered uses of force.

But concerns have been raised about the effect the sharp anchors and loud noises, that could easily be mistaken for a gunshot, may have on some people. The company published several videos online showing the device being used to detain individuals struggling with mental health conditions, including autism.

"It is really unnecessary," said Dr. Tomoya Hirota, a child psychiatrist and Medical Director of UCSF's Autism Center. "I'm a bit worried, if they say this is a great device. And it's used without considering any other options."

Hirota is commenting on body camera video published by the company showing the Erie Police Department in Pennsylvania responding to a call from a mother whose autistic son was outside throwing objects at cars.

"It's really hard to see," said Dr. Lawrence Fung, assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford.

Dr. Fung thinks the BolaWrap could overstimulate anyone undergoing a mental health crisis - especially autistic children and adults who often have sensory sensitivities to sound and touch.


"If the device wraps really tight, it can irritate the skin," said Dr. Hirota. "It could lead to some traumatic experiences for some people."

A similar response analyzed from this video out of Missouri where the Columbia Police Dept. responded to a trespassing call at a local convenience store that turned into an attempted break-in.

"The more aggressive the intervention may be, the worst the reaction from a person who may have intellectual and other mental health conditions," said Dr. Fung.

The San Francisco Police Dept. says they've been monitoring how other law enforcement agencies around the country have successfully been using this technology.

"We're currently exploring any new tools that could assist our officers to better de-escalate situations and improve both public and officer safety," the department wrote in a statement sent to the I-Team.

According to city staffers, it would be a complicated process to get this passed -- first requiring approval from the city's police commission.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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