Spider-Man type restraint touted for use by UK police causes alarm

Steven Morris
Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

A Spider-Man-like gadget that brings suspects to a halt by entangling them in cord fired from a hand-held device could be adapted for use by UK police.

The US-made BolaWrap 100 restraint, which is being demonstrated to forces in the UK this week, is billed as an alternative in some situations to the Taser stun gun.

According to the makers, Wrap Technologies, its effect is similar to putting a suspect in handcuffs, but from a distance, and it provides a way to control potentially dangerous suspects without inflicting pain.

The company says its invention could be particularly effective in dealing with people under the influence of drugs. It also says it can be useful in restraining people with mental health issues.

Tom Smith, the president of Wrap Technologies and a founder of the company behind Taser, said: “The BolaWrap 100 device ensures a safe distance can be kept between a suspect and a person trying to detain them; it does not inflict pain which can often escalate a situation, and it allows time for negotiation and de-escalation in a safe environment.”

However, the charity Inquest, which works with the families of people who have died during or after being restrained by police, warned the device could be dangerous and said the prospect of it being adopted by UK forces “was of serious concern”.

Doug Sear, the head of the British distributor, Emergency Protection, said: “It’s a Spider-Man type of tool. It shoots out 8ft of Kevlar and in a blink of an eye you’re wrapped up.”

Sear said the device, being demonstrated to UK police this week, was typically aimed at the chest or below and was an excellent way of tackling a person with a knife. He said police forces across the UK had shown an interest in it.

It is expected that around 40 to 50 police officers or trainers will attend the demonstration, at an undisclosed location.

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The Kevlar tether is laser guided, and users are trained to ensnare the limbs of suspects. The tether leaves the cartridge at nearly 200 metres per second, and can also be replaced in seconds for multiple detentions.

BolaWrap 100 is powered by a blank charge similar to a sports starting pistol and officers who have tested it in the US have said the noise from the device can also slow down suspects. The officer discharging the device can be up to 8 metres away from the target.

It is also being aimed at security agencies, prisons and detention centres, as well as wider military use. It has been trialled by police forces across the US and Australia.

Deborah Coles, the executive director of Inquest, said: “The potential introduction of this new device is of serious concern.”

The charity flagged up the landmark review by Dame Elish Angiolini into deaths in custody, in which she argued the police needed to recognise that all types of restraint had the potential to cause death.

The 2017 review said there was no consistency of training in restraint techniques across English and Welsh police forces. It focused on restraint involving people in mental crisis, concluding: “National policing policy, practice and training must reflect the now widely evident position that the use of force and restraint against anyone in mental health crisis or suffering from some form of drug or substance induced psychosis poses a life threatening risk.”

Coles said: “Rather than investing in new restraint equipment, focus and investment by police should instead be given to implementing the outstanding recommendations of Dame Elish almost two years on from her review.”