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January 18, 2020
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Sheriff’s Office unveils ‘less-lethal’ devices

APTOS—Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies have a new tool to help them arrest uncooperative suspects without serious injury.

Dozens of sheriff’s office personnel on Wednesday were training on the use of the Bola Wrap, a handheld device that fires an 8-foot cord with barbed hooks on either end.

The cord is designed to wrap around a suspect’s legs, immobilize them and give law enforcement officials time to arrest them.

The SCCSO is the first in the region that is using the devices, said Sheriff Jim Hart.

The office recently purchased 20 to field-test them for the next six months. If successful, the SCCSO will purchase enough of the $1,000 devices for all its staff.

But Hart said that the focus of the discussion should not be about money, but rather about halting the use of lethal force whenever possible.

“Even if we have one case where we prevented lethal force from having to be used, it’s worth the investment,” Hart said. “It’s not about money, it’s about trying to find something that works out there.”

According to Hart, deputies last year responded to a serious mental health crisis an average of 10 times per day.

“And we have to get every one of those calls right,” he said. 

The sheriff’s office has been criticized in the past for using lethal force. 

Luke Smith, 15, was fatally shot in November 2016 after he reportedly stabbed his father and then led law enforcement on a foot chase.

Investigators say Luke had ingested LSD before the incident. He resisted numerous orders to surrender and kept fighting despite being struck by several non-lethal rubber bullets and Taser blasts. Still armed with a knife, he was shot to death during a struggle with a police dog.

“A number of years ago I made a commitment to the community that we would examine all new technology that came out, particularly around less-lethal devices,” Hart said.

Deputies currently carry pepper spray, batons, Tasers and less-lethal sponge rounds fired out of a shotgun, collectively known as less-lethal weapons.

Law enforcement officials are also trained to use their communication skills to handle dangerous situations, Hart said.

“The idea is that we want to successfully de-escalate cases where people have a weapon that’s not a gun without causing harm to that person,” he said. “This is one more option – one more device – our staff will have in order to successfully resolve some of these odd cases that we’re seeing.”

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