We can think of technology in a bubble, somewhere off on its own while society progresses in fits and starts. New devices are called "toys," scientists still have the nerdy stereotype affixed, and the world rolls onward.
This of course is entirely wrong. Technology and society are tightly intertwined, and technological revolutions often enable societal ones. Right now, as a pandemic sweeps our nation, we look to scientists to produce a vaccine that could be the ultimate escape hatch for this difficult situation.
But that’s not all. As cities and towns nationwide have seen protests over the treatment of people of color at the hands of law enforcement, could technology provide new, nonlethal tools?
Item: "The cost is $925 each to buy one of law enforcement’s newest tools, a handheld, non-lethal "BolaWrap" device that fires a Kevlar tether, which works like a lasso while wrapping around a suspect’s arms or legs."
That’s from a story last week by The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Hrenchir. Wrap Technologies, which produces the device, showed it off at the Washburn Institute of Technology.
"Wrap Technologies modernized a centuries-old tool used by Argentinian cowboys to wrangle cattle by developing patented technology that incorporated a Kevlar tether into a hand-held remote," according to the Wrap Technologies website. "The remote discharges the tether at a distance of up to 25 feet away from its intended target and wraps around the target’s legs or torso and arms, as a pain-free option to restrain them."
This could be an important option, because restraint inevitably carries risks. Everyone understands that a firearm can be deadly, but we’ve been reminded that chokeholds and other person-on-person methods can also be fatal. Even the Taser stun gun, which has been widely deployed, can kill.
So a lasso-type solution looks remarkably appealing. The devil would be in the details, of course. What would the costs be? What might happen if a person falls or injures themselves after being restrained with one? What training would law enforcement officials receive?
Ultimately, too, more fundamental questions should be resolved. Why are law enforcement officers being called, and what situations are they being asked to rectify? Are they in a situation where a crime has been — or is about to be — committed? Or are they dealing with a person in mental health crisis?
The nation has had extensive debates lately about the use and nature of police force. These conversations are important and timely. New technologies can allow officers safer options, but they can’t be the only answer.