US protests boost sales and fears of sonic blaster

 

Police deployment of sonic blasters
at Occupy Wall Street and G-20 protest rallies is fuelling both sales
and criticism of the devices, which emit beams of sound with laser-like
intensity.

More US police and emergency-response agencies are using the so-called Long-Range Acoustic Devices instead of megaphones or conventional loudspeakers for crowd control, according to news reports and leading manufacturer LRAD Corp. of San Diego.

But the products, which the makers developed as nonlethal options for military use, are prompting outcries from people on the receiving end, who call them "sound cannons." The city of Pittsburgh is fighting an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit claiming the piercing tone from a police blaster during the 2009 G-20 summit permanently damaged a woman's hearing. At least one Occupy Wall Street protester says New York City police also used the punishing alert tone, although police say they have used the device only to broadcast messages.

LRAD says its products offer police something louder than a megaphone and more benign than rubber bullets and tear gas for managing crowds, defusing hostage situations and serving warrants on dangerous suspects.

"All of these events have helped bring interest to LRAD as new way to take care of these type of situations where they haven't had them before," company spokesman Robert Putnam said.

The publicly traded company had record sales of $26m (£6.7m)  in the 2011 fiscal year ending 30 September, up 57 per cent from a year earlier. Foreign and domestic military customers accounted for at least 58 percent of sales.

The company said on 5 December in its year-end report that it sees increased commercial applications for LRADs in areas including law enforcement.

The company developed the devices for the U.S. Navy after the deadly 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen to give sailors a way of ordering small boats to stop approaching U.S. warships. Until 2009, they were known mainly for seagoing applications, including deterring pirates from attacking cruise ships. LRAD said the Louisiana National Guard used its products to communicate with victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The products range from a battery-operated, hand-held unit to a 320 lb (145 kg) device with an advertised range of nearly 2 miles (3.2 km). Even the smallest unit, the LRAD 100X, emits as much as 137 decibels at 1 metre. That's louder than a jet takeoff at 100 meters but lower than the pain threshold of 140 decibels, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Putnam said LRAD broadcast levels are purposely kept below the threshold that could cause permanent hearing damage. He acknowledged that prolonged exposure can cause damage, comparing it to listening to fire siren for a long time.

The Associated Press witnessed a demonstration in September of the 149-decibel, 500X model at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. At a distance of about 250 yards (meters), it clearly emitted spoken words, a recorded train whistle and an annoying squeal — the alert tone.

Karen Piper, a University of Missouri professor, visited Pittsburgh during the September 2009 G-20 summit to research whether protesters have any effect on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. She claims in a federal lawsuit she was about 100 feet (30 metres) from an LRAD mounted on a moving vehicle when it emitted a "piercing, continuous, high-pitched sound" for a number of minutes, causing permanent hearing loss.

The ACLU is representing Piper in her lawsuit against the city, alleging violations of her constitutional rights of assembly, privacy and due process. The complaint, filed in September, alleges the city was negligent, reckless and careless in its use of the LRAD.

The city denied Piper's claims recently in a court filing. It said its representatives used LRAD in accordance with the manufacturers' safety instructions.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says exposure to a sound of 120 decibels should not equal or exceed 9 seconds.

Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of the Pittsburgh Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said his agency supplied the LRADs to Pittsburgh police for the G-20 summit. He said he's never seen a better device for communicating with an unruly crowd.

"What would you rather have us do, the old 1964 routine with fire hoses and billy clubs? I think it's a lot more humane to make people uncomfortable because their ears hurt, and they leave," he said.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks