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As Buffalo Police consider pilot program for BolaWrap, activists speak out in opposition

Nick Lippa

A group of community activists is raising concerns over the possible use of a new non-lethal restraint tool by Buffalo Police dealing with mental health emergencies.

The tool being considered is the BolaWrap, a Kevlar cord with tethered fish hooks that, when fired at an individual, can bind their arms or legs.

Buffalo Citizens for Council Accountability representative Jessica Wheeler questions the effectiveness BolaWrap could have, even if officers are trained extensively with it.

“While we appreciate Council President Darius Pridgen’s sense of urgency for non-lethal interactions between police and citizens, we continue to believe that new technology is not the answer. The answer is and always has been counselors, not cops. BolaWrap is too new for the market. They have been available for police purchase since 2019. And less than 200 police forces are using them globally,” Wheeler said.

According to the BolaWrap website, the cost per device and its related equipment can add up to between $1000 and $1300.

A few weeks ago, City Hall proposed to have social workers help police when they attend to people in crisis. Social worker Kathyrn Franco called that a bad plan.

“It's interesting to me to think that social workers would be the solution, when in reality, it's just a band aid to what we know is an inherently racist system,” Franco said. “And when we look at law enforcement, that's what we have.”

A few days after that proposal, the Buffalo Police said they were considering BolaWrap as an alternative to an officer’s revolver. But Franco said it’s not the right option.

“What would be really great is if we had our elected officials listening to the residents and the solutions. So the real non-lethal way that we can save lives and not kill people is to ratify Daniels law,” Franco said.

Daniel’s Law – named for Daniel Prude, a Black man fatally injured after being restrained by Rochester Police in March – would call for counselors, rather than cops, to answer a call of someone in crisis.

Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo said they had a demonstration of the device for their executive staff in Buffalo a couple of weeks ago.

“And we're currently in the process of reviewing some additional materials to make a determination whether or not to conduct a pilot project of the technology within our agency,” Rinaldo said. “What we're looking at is other agencies they have deployed, the technology has it been effective? What are their thoughts on it? And then kind of moving on from there.”

Rinaldo said a decision on that would be made in the next month or so.

“I think it would not be appropriate for us to do no due diligence and look at the different technologies and methods and practice. They're out there. And that is what we're doing. We're looking at what is the best response we can create for these situations,” Rinaldo said.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.