Yonkers New York Police Commissioner Charles Gardner and Newsman Dominic Carter

Is the “Bola Wrap” the Police Answer for an Emotional Disturbed Person?

I have flown on an NYPD patrol helicopter around the big apple and past the Statue of Liberty. I have traveled the choppy waters of the Hudson River on an NYPD boat just days after the 9/11 attack with then-NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the “Ground Zero” area. The Hudson River borders New York’s West Side highway, and is within view of the double-decked George Washington Bridge, which connects the states of New York and New Jersey. Now on a Fall October 2018 day, I was on Yonkers Ave in New York’s fourth largest city, Yonkers, which neighbors the Bronx, New York. The Bronx is my home borough as a native son of New York.

Yonkers Ave is where Police Headquarters is located. About a block away, on a busy corner is a Popeyes chicken store. Years ago, my buddies and I would come to the nearby YMCA in the same Yonkers area to get away from New York City for a few hours, and we would play basketball there, having a wonderful time bonding with each other. Now I was back in Yonkers, but this time for a serious societal issue.

Police encounters with those in mental crisis. The more things have changed, the more they stayed the same. How do you take an emotional disturbed person (EDP) into custody when they may be holding a knife, or a baseball bat? This is the story Dominic Carter did on TV. Verizon FiOS TV News. You can click here to see it.

Law Enforcement is searching for the answer. Having started my journalism career covering a major trial in the Bronx New York that greatly polarized the city, the police shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, and the full criminal trial against the officer that ensued, Police departments across the entire country are trying to make sure those situations are a thing of the past. Eleanor Bumpurs was an elderly African American woman who was shot and killed by New York City police, October 29th, 1984. The police were present to enforce a city-ordered eviction of Bumpurs from her Bronx apartment since she was four months behind on her monthly rent of $98.65. In requesting NYPD assistance, housing authority workers told police that Bumpurs was emotionally disturbed, had threatened to throw boiling lye, and was using a knife to resist eviction. When the 66 year old Bumpurs, who was naked, and in her living room refused to open the door, the NYPD Emergency Service Unit squad specially trained in subduing emotionally disturbed people, the officers then knocked down the door and entered. Police say they attempted to restrain Bumpurs with plastic shields and a special Y-shaped bar, but she fought free, waving the knife and tried to slash an officer. In the struggle to subdue her, Officer Stephen Sullivan shot Bumpurs twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. One pellet from the first shot struck Bumpurs’ hand; all nine pellets from the second shot struck her in the chest. Officer Sullivan was found not-guilty at trial. Eleanor Bumpurs has stayed with me. All these years later I’m no longer the cub reporter. I’m the seasoned one.

Newsman Dominic Carter with Emergency Services Police Captain Patrick Rooney and Lt. Luis Cepeda

Crisis intervention is a major part of the Police job. Law Enforcement agencies around the country are looking at using a new “lasso” type gun device designed to safely detain people.

I sat in the office of Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner, who has been with the Yonkers P.D. for 40 years. The buck stops with Gardner. You couldn’t help but notice, the commissioner had his shiny gold and blue badge hooked onto his belt placed on the left side of his pants. His suit jacket was draped on a coat rack behind his office door, and there was a lot of sunlight coming into his office from the windows. The sun rays cut across the Commissioner’s face. Draped behind him was an American flag on one side, and the City of Yonkers New York flag on the other. As he talked to me, one could practically see his has excitement about this device named a Bola wrap.

“The Bola wrap is a small hand-held device that projects an 8 foot kelver string that would wrap around the person’s chest or maybe legs. It’s designed to be utilized below the chest level. And it would temporary stun and immobilize the person, which would give us an opportunity to maybe overwhelm and take him or her into custody, without any real injury.” -Police Commissioner Charles Gardner
Bola Wrap Police Device

The Bola wrap was on display at a recent police gathering in Westchester County, New York. It’s a device straight out of “Batman.” First there is a loud sound to first immobilize the subject, and it all It happens so fast that the human eye is unable to see the barbed Kelver…the same material bullet-proof vests are made out of, traveling through the air at 640 feet per second.

Situations can quickly escalate when a person is undergoing mental crisis….and police say sometimes tasers prove ineffective, especially with someone with a Mental Illness issue.

Just last year in the New York area, there was the case in 32 year old Dwayne Jeune in his own Brooklyn Apartment. Police said tasing him didn’t work. A police officer fatally shot Jeune after authorities say he came at them with a 14 inch knife. There was also the fatal police shooting in the Bronx Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old Bronx woman with a history of mental illness.

The company that makes the device….wrap technologies says it’s neither painful or dangerous. Police Commissioner Gardner says he believes the device can serve the public well.

Can the Bola wrap save lives? The Top Cop choose his words carefully.

“I believe in certain cases it be effective in taking someone into custody depending on the situation and obviously it could avert some type of violent interaction. I think it would provide us another opportunity to reduce injury to both our police officers and the individual that we may be encountering at a particular event.”

When the device is fired the officer is aided by a green laser pinpoint light to help with accuracy. After leaving Police headquarters, the next stop was the Emergency Services Unit at the Yonkers Police Department.

Yonkers New York PD “Bobcat,” type vehicle

At the Yonkers Emergency Services Division I met with police captain Patrick Rooney, and Lt. Luis Cepeda. We were surrounded by huge camper-like police vehicles for all types of situations. One by one, Captain Rooney described them. The first one looked like a supersized bus that was practically a portable hospital. That’s exactly what it was.

“The vehicles behind us, the first one that says EMS task force on it, is the medical evacuation transport unit, we call it the me too. It’s basically an 18-place ambulance. So, it does any sort of bulk emergency medical response where we need to move a large amount of people who may or may not have medical issues at one time.” -Captain Rooney

So we were standing there looking at an impressive medical bus that can treat 18 people at one time on location in an emergency. Captain Rooney described the second large camper-like police bus.

“The second vehicle is our heavy rescue and tactical support vehicle that has any number of equipment in it for tactical situations. It carries our law enforcement “unman” vehicle, our robot. A heavy-duty ballistic shield for more dire emergencies where a higher ballistic protection is needed as well as other tactical equipment like fiber-optic cameras. It also has our heavy-lift airbags and our other hydraulic extrication equipment for building collapse, vehicle extrication. Any number of emergencies really.”

And the third huge vehicle?

“This is our hazardous materials response and monitoring vehicle. It also has our airbags like you see in the movies for people that may want to harm themselves and jump off a building, or just people in an emergency who may need to get off a building. It is a rapid expansion bag where people can jump off 3–4 stories into the bag, and not be harmed. It also has hazardous materials response, and air monitoring equipment built into the entire vehicle. “

Think about what Emergency Services Police officers have to do each and every day?

This is not SWAT on TV or in Hollywood. Police have to handle real life emergency situations, which includes mental response calls. They don’t get to pick and choose. Our Police are expected to de-escalate a situation, but it could go terribly wrong. One bad mistake, and that officer could leave in a body bag.

I asked: “So captain you have to be ready for anything on moment’s notice?” He said absolutely. Following up, could the Bola Wrap make a difference?

“I would say absolutely. Any tool that we can get that lets us help people who are in distress, people who are in distress, people that might be emotionally disturbed, or have a developmental delay, or be under the influence of some sort of substance, where they’re not in control of their actions, or can’t control their emotions, anytime we can be able to restrain them with limited chance for injury to themselves or the responding officers, is always a benefit.”

A few days before the display of the Bola wrap device, in Brooklyn, the borough president there, Eric Adams, a former police officer himself approved of the Bola Wrap at a demonstration that he put on. He wants the NYPD to use it citywide. The company says the device costs $800 and each bola $30 and it takes from 3 to 8 seconds to reload.

The Brooklyn borough president said there the NYPD responded to nearly 150,000 calls for service involving a person in mental crisis last year stating that every four minutes in NY there is a call to the police for an emotionally disturbed person.

Yonkers Police Commissioner Gardner says in dealing with an emotional disturbed person…for law enforcement it’s always about buying time…and trying to de-escalate a situation.

“What we generally try to do if we have the opportunity is to bring a negotiator out, to try and slow things down, and wait the person out. We don’t like to go to force right away. If we have an opportunity to step back, slow things down, that’s what we prefer to do.”

Thirty years ago I left the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, working on a Master’s Degree in broadcast journalism and undergrad at the State University of New York-College at Cortland.

Police encounters with people suffering from Mental Illness was a major problem, and all these years later, it still remains a tough situation to handle. The key is how to do it, without resorting to lethal force.

There has to be a solution.

Maybe it's the Bola Wrap. Maybe it's not. Maybe a solution to police dealing with the mentally ill, will come during my lifetime.

Meanwhile, this is the full conversation I (Dominic Carter) had with Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner.

So Commissioner, Yonkers is looking at bringing in the Bola Wrap?

“Yes, we had some tests done from the Bola Wrap company here in our training unit. We’re excited about it. We believe it’s another option for our officers. Another less lethal option for our officers that may in some cases have the ability to reduce injuries to both the individual that we’re encounting, and our police officers. It may not be perfect in every situation…right now it looks promising for dealing with people that be suffering some type of mental disorder or violent individuals where it’s not…does not use pain for compliance. So its less lethal, it’s not pain compliant, and it may provide us an opportunity to use less force in some of these cases.”

Can the Bola wrap save lives?

“I believe in certain cases it be effective in taking someone into custody depending on the situation and obviously it could avert some type of violent interaction. I think it would provide us another opportunity to reduce injury to both our police officers and the individual that we may be encountering at a particular event.”

How does the Yonkers police department currently deal with emotionally disturbed people?

“We have a number of different options available. It depends on….every situation is different. We have tasers. We have a number of less lethal options in our emergency service unit. There we have specially trained personnel. What we generally try to do if we have the opportunity is to bring a negotiator out, to try and slow things down, and wait the person out. We don’t like to go to force right away. If we have an opportunity to step back, slow things down, that’s what we prefer to do. We have specially trained crisis intervention negotiators that are on patrol and on-call, and will come to a scene and assist us in ramping things down so we can have some type of peaceful resolution. We’ve been doing that for years, and its been very helpful to us.”

Commissioner, if you will describe the Bola Wrap?

“The Bola wrap is a small hand held device that projects a 8 foot kelver string that would wrap around the person’s chest or maybe legs. It’s designed to be utilized below the chest level. And it would temporary stun and immobilize the person, which would give us an opportunity to maybe overwhelm and take him or her into custody, without any real injury.”

How would the Pilot Program work and how soon could it be here in the city of Yonkers?

“So we’ve had the representatives from the company here. They’ve done some tests in our training unit. We have some simple policies that we are working on right now where right now we are working on a policy so that we can deploy it with a certain number of personnel in a test case. We like to see it used in the field, and we would get feedback before we deploy it full into the department. We are working a policy. Once we get a working policy and confer with our legal team, we’re going to put this out and try to get some experience with it out in the field and see how it works.”

Could this be cost-effective for the city of Yonkers?

“Yes, absolutely. The device itself is relatively inexpensive and anytime you have an ability to reduce injuries to our personnel, not only is it safer for the officer and the public, but reduced injury is cost effective for us as well.”