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North Catty police make changes, add nonlethal weapons

During the July 20 meeting of North Catasauqua Borough Council, Police Chief Chris Wolfer made several announcements.

Much of Wolfer’s report involved revisions he made to the department’s standard operating procedure on use of force. The previous procedures, Wolfer said, had been in place for many years without change. He reported the original half-page document is now 16 pages long.

Wolfer detailed several specific changes relating to use of force. He plans to replace the shotguns carried in all department cruisers with less lethal bean bag rifles. Although a safer alternative to regular shotgun rounds, beanbag rounds can still cause fatal injuries if used improperly.

Officers in North Catasauqua will also receive training on proper use of these new rounds. Wolfer said Officer Leighton Purcell has been signed up for less-lethal weapons training.

With the help of Emergency Management Director Roger Scheirer, Wolfer also described another nonlethal weapon to council. A BolaWrap is a handheld device that launches a Kevlar cable that wraps tightly around a target’s legs, causing them to trip and fall.

Having witnessed a demonstration of the weapon and seeing its worth to the department, Wolfer and Scheirer received permission from council to purchase one unit and several rounds for $1,500. Wolfer plans to hold a demonstration of the device for council once it arrives.

According to Wolfer and Scheirer, being shot with the BolaWrap is painless and allows for a safer way for officers to halt fleeing assailants from a distance.

Marc Hillenbrand of the North Catasauqua Betterment Committee, who was also in attendance at the meeting, offered to provide funding from his organization so the department could purchase two units.

In addition to less-lethal weapons training, Wolfer also enrolled all North Catasauqua officers in an online class on intervening when witnessing incidents of excessive force - a class all of them passed.

Wolfer also explained he is developing an in-depth self-defense course for his officers with the help of Officer Steven Santiago, who was formerly employed by the New York Police Department for more than 20 years.

Officers will also be required to repeat this mandatory training annually.

Wolfer announced he plans to develop a ride-along program within the police department, which will allow people who are interested in a career in law enforcement to ride along with a North Catasauqua police officer on the job.

Such a program would also be open to Catasauqua High School students who are looking to complete job shadowing before graduating.

Wolfer requested permission from council to allow Officer Brian Douglas an extra eight hours of work per week strictly for ordinance enforcement. With the department’s current caseload, Wolfer said officers struggle to properly enforce all of the borough’s ordinances. Giving an officer extra time to focus solely on this task would help them get back on top of it, Wolfer said.

Borough Council President Peter Paone alternatively suggested the borough hire a separate code enforcement officer just for ordinances, so as to avoid further burdening the police department with more responsibilities.

Wolfer was receptive to this proposal, and it is likely the matter will be further discussed at council’s next meeting Aug. 17.