CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

University of Utah Police hanging up their nightsticks for long-range tether wrap

Nov 6, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: Nov 8, 2023, 4:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Peace officers at the University of Utah will no longer carry nightsticks, choosing instead to use BolaWraps.

University of Utah Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires announced the change in a video posted on the school’s YouTube channel.

The device is meant to shoot a tether that wraps around a person’s legs, which, in theory, is meant to prevent them from running away or fighting back.

“Our goal is always to help and protect our community members from those that would harm, and do it with the least amount of force as possible,” Squire said in the video. “The ‘BolaWrap’ is another tool that helps us achieve this goal by providing a humane and effective way to safely restrain aggressive and threatening individuals.”

How the BolaWrap works

Brian Lohrke, U of U Police Operations captain, told KSL NewsRadio about the device.  He said it looks like a giant garage door opener.

 

“Think about Spider-Man shooting out the web,” Lohrke said. “It shoots out an about seven foot six Kevlar cord with two hooks on the end. And as they shoot out, they’ve wrapped around the individual’s legs or arms.”

The BolaWrap has a laser device to target where you want to shoot it. Lohrke said this makes it easy to avoid the head and neck.

Before officers could use the device, Lohrke said they all had in-depth training. There, officers learned the advantages and disadvantages of the BolaWrap. For example, if someone is running away and the device is used to tie up their legs, they could be injured.

“It’s got to be something of a very high crime, to even run that risk. So we’re talking about people who are posing a threat,” Lohrke said. “They may be standing, they may be static, but they’re refusing to comply with commands, and we need to get them into custody.”

The U started thinking about getting rid of nightsticks after footage of Tyre Nichols getting beaten by Memphis police was released. Lohrke said the situation sparked a conversation about what tools U officers use.

“We decided at this point because of the use, and because of the high potential for injury, this is a great time to retire the baton and move to something a little more safer for officers and the public,” he said.

Former police chief shares reaction to University of Utah using BolaWraps

Chris Burbank is the former Salt Lake City Police chief. Based on what he saw in the video and in his own research, he thinks the BolaWrap is more humane.

“It (the nightstick) is all about hitting somebody hard enough so that they go ouch and they no longer want to engage in that behavior. It is truly inhumane when you think about it,” Burbank told KSL NewsRadio.

He sees the switch as an apparent step up. But, Burbank said he wished people spent more time trying to prevent potentially dangerous encounters with police, especially for those with mental health struggles.

“We need to improve and reduce the encounter, as opposed to make it less painful for someone.”

Related reading: Police identify body found this week in the Jordan Riverdol

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