Northern Regional Police testing new nonlethal restraint device

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Northern York County Regional Police have begun a three-month testing and evaluation period to determine if a new kind of nonlethal restraint device could be a good fit for the department, Chief Dave Lash said — one the department hopes can safely restrain those with mental-health issues.

BolaWrap is a handheld remote restraint device that shoots an 8-foot-long Kevlar tether at 513 feet per second that wraps a person's legs or arms and is effective at a range of 10 to 25 feet, according to the manufacturer. Each tether has a four-pronged hook on either end.

"They supply us with loaner devices so we can try it and evaluate it," Lash said. "As of right now, we are out no money. … Our officers will be carrying them in the near future."

The test comes amid continued tensions between police and the public throughout the country over lethal force, which escalated this year following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, as an officer kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis.

This past summer, protests erupted in Lancaster after a knife-wielding man was shot and killed by officers there. The man's family said he was mentally ill. 

Northern Regional Police and county elected officials watched and participated in a product training session Monday at the department's range building, focusing on using BolaWrap on volunteers and a dummy, aiming at the waist down, Lash said.

BolaWrap is a handheld remote restraint device that shoots an 8-foot-long Kevlar tether wraps a person's legs or arms, according to the manufacturer.

"It seems to be fairly effective at doing that," Lash said. "I think out of the 20 or so applications I saw (Monday) morning, only one of them failed to wrap. … We were using it on a mannequin."

The hope is that BolaWrap gives officers the chance to safely deescalate encounters with the public using little or no force, according to the chief.

Not painful: "Most tools that a police officer uses rely on pain compliance," he said, including Tasers, pepper sprays and batons. "This device causes little to no pain."

The only potential for pain is if the barbed fishhooks scratch or become embedded in someone's skin, he said.

"We’re looking at it as another tool for the officers to deal with emotionally disturbed persons and other noncompliant individuals," Lash said.

In addition to temporarily immobilizing either a person's arms or legs, BolaWrap sounds like a gunshot when deployed because it's powered by a partially charged .380 blank, he said, which provides sensory overload as well.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Twp., agreed to be shot at with BolaWrap, which wrapped a tether around his legs at Northern York County Regional Police's training session on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

"It's certainly not an end-all. It's not a panacea, but it is another tool to help us deescalate situations with the least amount of force possible," Lash said.

BolaWrap is safer all around, the chief said — for officers and people officers are trying to arrest or restrain.

Less force needed: "It reduces the amount of force we potentially need to use, reduces the potential for injury of officers and reduces the potential for injuries all the way around," Lash said. "It doesn't hit you with enough force to knock you over."

After a person is restrained with the device's tether, officers have about 10 to 15 seconds to move in and take the person into custody, according to the chief.

Lash said he doesn't know of any police departments within a several-hour drive of York County that are currently using the device.

Participating and watching the demonstration were U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township; state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township; and state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. Also attending was a representative from the office of state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover.

Officers and public officials examine how a BolaWrap device was able to shoot a tether that wrapped this mannequin's legs during a training at the Northern York County Regional Police Department on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

"We invited all our elected representatives," Lash said. "This is a new technology. I thought it would be important (for officials to witness)."

Each BolaWrap device costs about $1,000, and single-use replacement cartridges cost about $35 apiece, according to the chief, who said if Northern Regional decides to arm its officers with BolaWrap, they will need about 25 devices.

Police-involved shootings: Since 2014, there have been at least 13 instances in which police officers in York County have shot civilians, eight of them fatal.

In 12 of the 13 cases, the York County District Attorney's Office determined officers were justified, and that they were in danger of being killed themselves when they fired. Here's a summary of them:

  • Joseph Penderghest, 40, was fatally shot by state police in Springfield Township on Aug. 8, 2014, as he was charging officers with a raised knife. He had been on Interstate 83, was paranoid and had fired a gun in his car with a woman and baby next to him.
  • Erika Eberhardinger was shot in the jaw and arm by York City Police on Dec. 29, 2014, as she was riding in a car driven by Matthew Foster. An officer fired at the car because it was coming directly at him and nearly ran him over. Foster was later sentenced to three to six years in state prison.
  • Dequan Lynn Williams, 28, was fatally shot by York City Police on Oct. 17, 2015, after he threw a knife at them and charged them. Police were called because Williams was suffering from schizophrenia, off his medication and causing a disturbance.
  • Trev Bowies Jackson II, now 29, is currently serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence for trying to shoot a Northern Regional officer at point-blank range with no warning during a traffic stop along Route 30 in Manchester Township on Nov. 22, 2015. The officer escaped with just powder burns to his face and dove for cover as Jackson fired two more times at him. The officer returned fire as Jackson fled in a vehicle, hitting him in the left hand. Jackson was eventually captured in Philadelphia by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
  • James Allen Nickol, 28, was fatally shot by a York County sheriff's deputy who suffered serious injuries when Nickol shot him twice. It happened June 9, 2016, as deputies were trying to arrest Nickol on an escape warrant. The wounded deputy was able to return fire and kill Nickol.
  • James Michael Armentrout was 44 when he was shot by York City Police on June 18, 2016. He was a fugitive at the time, and made the statement that he wasn't going to go back to prison. He was shot once in the calf as he drove directly at officers standing in a parking lot, and was later sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in state prison.
  • Rasheem Dinero Singletary, 25, was fatally shot by a state police trooper as he dragged the trooper a third of a mile down Interstate 83 on Nov. 15, 2016. He had struggled with the trooper prior to dragging him, and put his hand on the trooper's gun. Police later found guns and marijuana in Singletary's car.
  • Robert Bennett Becker, 79, was fatally shot outside his Hopewell Township home by state troopers on April 24, 2017. Becker had mental health issues, said a police confrontation would end in "suicide by cop" and repeatedly fired a 9 mm handgun at troopers before they returned fire.
  • Terry Eugene Diffenderfer survived being shot by York City Police when he was 30. He was fleeing from officers in a stolen SUV on April 29, 2017, and rammed a police cruiser five times, giving an officer a concussion. He was later sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in state prison.
  • Isaiah Christian Green, 21, was fatally shot by Northern Regional Police in his Dover Township garage on Dec. 28, 2017, after he pointed an AR-15-style rifle directly at an officer. Police were responding to a 911 call from the home in which someone said, "we need police."
  • Gregory Lorn Stough, 27, was fatally shot by Northern Regional Police on Jan. 6, 2018, in the parking lot of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in Manchester Township. Officers spotted a vehicle in the lot with its lights on at 3:20 a.m. and knew church officials didn't want people in their lot overnight. Stough had four warrants and tried to escape by hitting an officer with his car. He was using his car to push the officer into a cruiser when a second officer fatally shot Stough.
  • Ryan Shane Smith survived being shot in the leg by now-retired Southwestern Regional Police Officer Stu Harrison on May 30, 2018, in the parking lot of Santander Bank in Spring Grove. Smith suffers from mental-health issues and was causing a disturbance at the bank when he was arrested and was handcuffed, but refused to put his legs into the back of a police cruiser. The DA's office has said Harrison drew what he thought was a Taser, put it against Smith's leg and fired, but it was actually his handgun. Harrison remains charged with simple assault in York County Court; a judge earlier this year refused to drop the case against him.
  • Logan James Montgomery, 29, was fatally shot by a West Manchester Township police officer at a Manchester Township motel on Aug. 25, 2018. The shoplifting suspect fired a gun at the officer and the officer returned fire.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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