Soon, Sgt. Pepper and his virile squad of spraying constables may represent a kinder, milder mould. Weapons technology is advancing rapidly and the 2010 Olympics provides Canadian police with opportunity and funding to experiment broadly.
Vancouver City Police rolled out one new toy this week. It is the MRAD, a Medium Range Acoustical Device or, as the VPD prefers, a “public address system.” That it doubles as a narrow beam sonic cannon, powerful enough to cause permanent hearing damage, pain or worse to people assembled nearby is a bonus.
The technology was created for the U.S. military but is now deployed internationally by both public and private agencies. Pittsburgh police used the devices when a few hundred demonstrators took to the streets to mark the opening of the G20 summit of world leaders in September.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department purchased LRAD equipment for crowd dispersal but, after a flurry of criticism, insisted they would use it only as a voice amplification system. Of course, when the system operators are dressed in full battle gear, that statement rings hollow. That, and the availability of better, cheaper sound systems suggest communication is not the primary goal.
“If you accidentally flip that switch and someone is within a 30-foot range, they can have their eardrums burst, bleeding in the inner ear, and it can result in an aneurysm or death,” says reporter Kim Dvorac from Examiner.com, citing a source in the Department of Defense.
The sonic cannons were used extensively in Georgia during recent political protests. These and other attacks on peaceful protesters have showed “the authorities’ intolerance” towards peaceful protest rallies, Sozar Subari, the Public Defender, said on October 29.
We know that Taser has awesome multi-shot units now and there are electronic stun belts available for more intimate use. Other police weapons to be revealed soon will include directed energy devices using high energy waves or heat-rays to repel individuals or disperse crowds. This pain beam is one example of ADS or Active Denial Systems. Raytheon’s Silent Guardian was first demonstrated two years ago but work is continuing to make devices tougher, smaller, more powerful, and more mobile.
From Noah Shactman’s Danger Room at wired.com:
…the non-lethal weapons community is fixed on the idea of a skin-heating pain beam, but is not satisfied with the current technology. Gallium Nitride offers another possible way forward, on top of the sheet beam klystons and infra-red lasers we’ve seen previously. Different technologies may work better at different scales.
GaN technology could give us small, efficient Active Denial weapons – small enough to be installed as a non-lethal option in existing vehicles (lack of this technology meant the previous small pain beam built for Project Sheriff was not powerful enough). If successful, the technology will doubtless feed into the portable active denial system program, adding a pain beam option to the police’s existing arsenal of Tasers, pepper spray, bean bags and batons.
We watched quietly years ago as police armed themselves with Tasers despite a woeful lack of analysis from scientists outside the influence of law enforcement agencies or arms manufacturers. Hundreds died, many avoidably, before the real dangers of conducted energy weapons became widely apparent. Happily, British Columbia, by actions of the Braidwood Inquiry, leads the way in seeking appropriate rules of engagement for the particular device.
I am left wondering why our community will spend heavily – millions for Braidwood – to examine and review apparently unnecessary deaths that occur in the public eye and yet spend next to nothing in advance to ensure that correct weapons choices are made at the start. This subject is too important to be left to the people who control the weapons.
After highly controversial displays of police violence against English demonstrators, including the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson after an unprovoked attack from behind by police, many in England wonder how the situation came to be as it now is. David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, said:
How did the police end up in a situation where they used the same degree of force on the most peaceful demonstration as they did for a violent protest at the Bank of England? They seem to only have one trick.
What is planned by the unprecedented gathering of police for the 2010 Vancouver Games? Will they have only one trick? What new weapon systems are at hand? What civilian authorities have reviewed the preparations and the expenditure of almost $1 billion dollars in extra police costs.
Is this important? Yes, democracy is ultimately at stake.