HOUSTON – It looks like something from a James Bond movie, but it’s actually the newest tool police officers are using to fight crime and defuse tense situations without having to resort to lethal force.
Sean Isensee went to Clements High School and the University of Houston for a year.
“Sean was 31 when he died,” said his father, Ted. “He had a number of things. He was bipolar and generalized anxiety disorder.”
In April 2013 he was temporarily living at home with his parents in Sugar Land.
“He said ‘I’m going to kill myself,’” Ted said. “He (came) downstairs with a hatchet.”
Then, Ted says his son picked up a gun.
“I left the house. I told my wife to leave the house and I called 911,” Ted said. As the couple waited anxiously outside for over a half-hour, police were inside the garage talking with Isensee.
“We could hear one of the officers say, ‘drop the rifle, drop the rifle, drop the rifle,’ and then shortly after that, ‘Boom!’ and another ‘Boom!’” Ted said. About 15 minutes later, Ted says he learned his son was dead.
About 25% of all deadly police shootings involve a person with a mental health disorder, according to a report from the Office of Research & Public Affairs, Treatment Advocacy Center.
Now there is new technology, a non-lethal tool for officers to use that instantly wraps up a combative person in the midst of a mental health crisis.
It's called the Bola wrap.
First in the region
The Harris County Constable Precinct 1 was the first local law enforcement agency to get Bola wraps and they gave KPRC 2 a demonstration. Precinct 1 executes all mental health warrants for Harris County.
The small, hand held device features a laser with which officials can aim at the target. When ejected, a Kevlar cord is released with two “pellets” on either end that resemble “little, mini grappling hooks,” according to Sgt. Jimmy Cook. The cord is made of the same substance as the bulletproof vests used by law enforcement officials.
"If we have to take you into custody because we're required to, we want to make sure you're not going to get hurt in the process," said Constable Alan Rosen.
They want to use the least amount of force possible.
When fired, the Bola wrap is fast. About 400 feet per second fast.
While the device sounds like a gun being fired, it does not hurt. There are no electrodes like with a taser.
Officials say they wouldn’t use a Bola wrap if the subject is armed with a gun and a minimum of seven feet distance is required for the wrap to fully deploy. If it doesn’t fully deploy, the loud bang could be just enough of a distraction to bring a situation to a safe ending.
Right now Bola wraps are only assigned to the Constable’s mental health division. It’s a pilot program that kicks off at the end of January.
Over 100 police agencies throughout the United States have them. Recently, it was used to subdue a suspect during a standoff in Fresno, California and successfully ended a standoff in Fort Worth.
Tools and procedures
“Police could view it as a tool," Ted said when he was shown the Bola wrap. “Not going to solve everything, we’re not going to use it in all cases but there may be some cases where it’s a better alternative.”
After his son’s death, Ted created the Isensee Foundation for Safe Police Response to help improve police training and he believes it’s not just important for officers to have non-lethal tools but also to have better procedures.
He now talks to officers, telling his son’s story and engaging in conversations about different police tactics that may be used to keep everyone safe in a crisis. Ted says the foundation’s work is paying off. A year after Sean’s death, a crisis intervention team was formed in Sugar Land.
“I’m the one who called 911 — I feel it’s my responsibility to make this less likely to happen to somebody else,” he said.
What to do if your loved one is in crisis
If you have a loved one who is having a mental health crisis, it can help to know what to say to law enforcement when you’re reporting the situation.
The Isensee Foundation for Safe Police Response created a script that you can download or print out that can be useful in situations. The guide is created for people to know what to say while calling 911 and when police arrive so they can best help your loved one.
See the guide below: