Spokane police to get new full-body restraints to more safely detain suspects

May 24—Spokane police will soon have a new tool to restrain and immobilize people who are under arrest.

On May 15, the Spokane City Council finalized a process allowing the Spokane Police Department to purchase 40 devices called the WRAP, full-body restraints that position the detained in an upright seated position to limit possible restrictions to their breathing, as well as helmets and 200 ankle straps.

The City Council in March approved $76,300 for the purchase, and in May authorized California-based Safe Restraints, which makes the devices, to be the sole provider for the city.

Officers will primarily use the full-body restraint for a suspect who has been handcuffed and placed under arrest but has become “out of control,” placing themselves or others in danger, according to police department representatives who demonstrated the device for the City Council at a March 6 Public Safety and Community Health Committee meeting.

The WRAP restraint system is used by the county jail and law enforcement in nearby jurisdictions, said Jacqui MacConnell, director of the Spokane Police Department’s Strategic Initiatives Division, a role that oversees internal affairs and training.

MacConnell told council members in March that the WRAP restraints could be used to replace leg restraints already in use by the department. In a brief interview, Spokane police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys clarified that the restraints would be used in addition to other tools, and nothing would be phased out as a result of WRAP restraints being acquired.

WRAP restraints are intended to reduce the likelihood of injury, including to the suspect, compared to other methods of restraints, according to briefing papers submitted to the City Council by the police department. Safe Restraints specifically markets the device as “proven to save lives,” limiting the risk of restricting a suspect’s breathing while fully restraining them.

Notably, Spokane was rocked by the death of Otto Zehm following a police interaction in 2006. His death was ruled to be a homicide, with lack of oxygen to the brain as the official cause.

“There’s never been an asphyxiation death with the WRAP, because that’s not how it’s designed,” Safe Restraints CEO Charles Hammond said in an interview.

There have been in-custody deaths when a suspect was restrained with a WRAP, including the 2018 deaths of Earl McNeil while in the custody of the National City Police Department in southern California, and Dujuan Armstrong while in the custody of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. A 2022 investigation published in the Guardian identified 10 lawsuits since 2000 for in-custody deaths during incidents involving WRAP restraints, but noted that many of the people who died in those cases had either pre-existing physical or mental health conditions.

These deaths were all either caused by officer misuse or other contributing factors, such as inebriation, Hammond said. The WRAP has been used for over 25 years by around 1,800 agencies, including 90 in Washington state, without a single death caused by proper use of a WRAP restraint, he argued.

“We have a tremendous safety record,” Hammond said. “If you take a handful of situations that did not directly have to do with the WRAP, but also look at the hundreds of thousands of times it has been used, that’s an incredibly successful track record.”

In the case of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which has since ceased its use of the WRAP, a coroner ruled that Armstrong died as a result of “mechanical asphyxia,” noting that officers had tightened the WRAP until Armstrong was bent far beyond the roughly 90-degree angle advised in Safe Restraints’ training materials. Officers also placed a spit mask over Armstrong’s face, which the coroner reported had been a contributing factor.

Hammond noted that arrests of combative people can already be dangerous for both officers and the arrested, and argued George Floyd would still be alive if Minneapolis police had been using the WRAP to restrain suspects.

“These situations are super dangerous for everybody,” Hammond said. “We are on everybody’s side.”

He added that Safe Restraints offers free training to law enforcement agencies, stating that this service was unparalleled for police equipment manufacturers. Though the City Council has only recently approved the purchase of WRAP restraints, the Spokane Police Department has been using demo samples for training and during arrests, Humphreys said in an interview.

“We always address the risks and the benefits of using a new tool,” she said.

“We would go over all of that in any training for any restraint system. That’s an automatic part of the training.”

Humphreys noted that using the WRAP to restrain suspects requires officers to be in constant observation of the person it is being used on. Safe Restraints insists on supervision in its training materials.

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