Cops with lassos on the train? New crime-fighting weapon suggested for Metro

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 25: LAPD officers E. Rosales, left, and D. Castro, patrol the Metro Red Line Hollywood/Highland Metro Station as tourists pass by Thursday, June 25, 2020 in Hollywood, CA. The Metro Board of Directors held a meeting Thursday where the agenda included the consideration of appointing a committee to develop plans for replacing armed transit safety officers with ``smarter and more effective methods of providing public safety.'' Metro security is staffed by multiple agencies, including the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and L.A. and Long Beach police departments, transit security guards and contract security workers. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
LAPD officers patrol the Hollywood/Highland Metro Station. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Amid an increase in crime and drug overdoses, the Los Angeles Police Department has proposed arming officers who patrol Metro buses and trains with a nonlethal whip-like device that wraps around a person's body.

The Los Angeles Police Board of Police Commissioners approved LAPD Chief Michel Moore's request on Tuesday to expand the use of the BolaWrap weapons on the Metro system, but final adoption of the plan awaits a decision by the Metro Board of Directors, which is expected to make the call after the LAPD demonstrates the device's use to Metro officials.

The proposal to deploy the nonlethal weapon is made as ridership begins to bounce back after a dramatic slump during the pandemic. Although there have been reports of several stabbings and dozens of drug overdoses on trains, Metro claims overall crimes have decreased in the last year.

Hundreds of LAPD officers have been armed since December 2019 with the BolaWrap, a green handheld weapon that fires a Kevlar cord that can ensnare a person, giving police enough time to subdue a suspect without using a gun or a Taser. The LAPD worked with Las Vegas-based Wrap Technologies to modify the devices to add lasers and a green color to signify the hand-held device is not lethal, Moore said during a demonstration in 2019, when the department first launched the device on a trial basis. At the time, Moore volunteered to be subdued by the whip-like cord during a live demonstration.

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The Metro system is patrolled by the LAPD, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and Long Beach police. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority rolled out an ambassador program last year, in hopes of addressing the crime problem and making riders feel safe on the bus and rail lines. The ambassadors patrol the transit system but are not armed and do not issue citations.

Metro officials have yet to approve the rollout of the BolaWrap but met with the LAPD authorities Wednesday to discuss the proposal, a Metro spokesperson said in a statement.

"The LAPD will be scheduling a demonstration of the device for Metro as an alternative to use of force in the system and will share its proposed plans to pilot its use on the Metro system, for Metro's consideration,” a Metro spokesperson said in a statement.

Metro has not set a date for when the pilot program will be discussed at a board meeting.

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LAPD officers have used the BolaWrap in 14 encounters during a year-long pilot program begun in 2022, Moore said in a letter to the Board of Police Commissioners on Aug. 9. The weapon is meant to be used in lieu of "use of force to detain" a person, Moore said. The BolaWrap would not be reported as a typical use of force unless the person who is subdued is injured or reports they are injured, according to the department's guidelines.

The requirement for officers to deploy the BolaWrap would be significantly lower than for any of the other use-of-force options, such as a Taser, pepper spray or beanbag round, Moore said. While the department wants to see the weapon used to resolve encounters peacefully, Moore said the limited number of deployments meant there was not enough data to make a conclusive decision about the effectiveness of the BolaWrap.

Moore asked for a year-long extension and an expansion of the BolaWrap's deployment to the roughly 25 officers who patrol the Metro transit system.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.