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Police Tech Firm Wrap Is Betting Big on Non-Lethal Weapons

The gov tech firm has announced its highest sales ever for its BolaWrap product. It’s part of a larger trend among agencies and their tech providers to respond to changing police practices and citizen expectations.

Three police officers walking down a sidewalk.
For more than a century, police duty belts — where officers keep their guns, handcuffs and other gear — have represented order or oppression, depending on one’s point of view.

Now a young government technology company is touting a product it pitches as making those belts stand for safety and even compassion.

Wrap Technologies, an Arizona seller of public safety technology, is riding high on the latest sales figures for its BolaWrap product, which it describes as non-lethal. Roughly resembling a Taser, it shoots what the company calls “a Kevlar cord to temporarily wrap an individual and restrict mobility.”

Right after Christmas, the company, founded in 2017, announced its largest yet BolaWrap order: $4.9 million. The purchase was made via a wholesale distributor that sells to international clients, CEO Kevin Mullins told Government Technology.

Indeed, he anticipates that 70 percent of the company’s sales in 2024 will come from international sales. The company sells to more than 60 countries and 1,200 agencies in the U.S., he said.

“There are a lot of geopolitical drivers now, a lot of civil unrest,” Mullins said when talking about the prospects for the company in this new year.

That includes South America, the company’s biggest international market, and a continent that recently has known its fair share of protests and political upheavals, some of which have turned violent.

As Mullins sees it, equipping police with non-lethal weapons can reduce the tension of protests, reducing sparks that can lead to violent explosions. Such tools can also work to restore long-term trust among citizens for law enforcement.

“BolaWrap is a very humane technology,” he said.

Robust debate exists over whether non-lethal weapons dampen violence or actually encourage even tighter efforts at control by police. Critics charge that not only can non-lethal weapons lead to serious injury or death, but allow police more freedom to shut down legal protests because law enforcement faces less accountability when using such tools.

In fact, when Los Angeles late last year put on hold its deployment of BolaWrap for the city’s transit system, the LA Times reported that “the requirements 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. And 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.”

That said, there is a growing awareness that reducing the use of lethal force also means more safety for police officers — safety being a major concern this year for Axon, one of Wrap’s competitors and one of the biggest players in law enforcement technology. Lethal force also often leads to big lawsuits, as Mullins pointed out.

As well, police are buying more such products, especially as more agencies embrace the idea of responding differently to people with mental health problems, or other instances that might be resolved without the use of lethal force. A Massachusetts police department that recently spent about $50,000 to buy BolaWrap said it had already trained 30 officers to use the product, and praised its ability to cut the risk of violence to both officers and would-be offenders who might be mentally ill.

“A lot of our growth is fueled by the mental health crisis we are going through right now,” Mullins said.

For the third quarter of 2023, Wrap reported a 114 percent year-over-year revenue increase, to $3.63 million. Gross profit reached $2.18 million, up 139 percent.

Wrap also sells virtual reality training for police and body cameras along with BolaWrap — a product that can come with what the company calls a “protest riot pack” that includes a carrying case and four cassettes for the cords.

Wrap also offers artificial intelligence functions in its cameras. And Mullins said the VR training could help with agencies experiencing staffing shortages, as such training doesn’t require pulling officers from the street.

“I can drop an officer into a virtual world in any scenario,” he said. That includes calls that, for instance, might involve a person suffering from dementia, or “talking a jumper off the bridge.”

Clearly, the future of public safety tech will involve more focus on non-lethal weapons and mental health training. It’s a big pivot but Mullins is confident that Wrap can help make it happen.

“In the last 30 years, nothing has really changed on an officer’s belt,” he said. “But officers are waking up (and realizing) there are better ways to de-escalate situations.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.