A Joint Investigative Report by East County Magazine and Liberty One Radio
by Miriam Raftery / East County Magazine / Originally posted September 11, 2009
(San Diego) – “Long-range acoustic devices [LRADs] for crowd control can be extremely dangerous. These are used in Iraq to control insurgents. They can cause serious and lasting harm to humans…We want to know WHY our Sheriff Dept has this weapon,” Sal Magallanez of San Diego-based Liberty One Radio said in an e-mail sent to East County Magazine, prompting a joint investigation.
The device was stationed by San Diego County Sheriff deputies at a recent town hall forum hosted by Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) in Spring Valley and at a subsequent town hall with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-San Diego). The Davis Rally drew an estimated 1,300-1,500 people, including vocal conservative and liberal protest groups.
A public records search conducted by East County Magazine has confirmed that the device is an LRAD 500-x manufactured by San Diego-based American Technology Corporation (ATC). Capable of use as an effective loudspeaker, the LRAD also has the ability to emit a deafening tone aimed at incapacitating and dispersing a crowd without use of lethal force.
“It’s very concerning,” Kevin Keenan, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said. “ It is fine for the Sheriff’s Department to have new less-than-lethal weapons, but for their interactions with individuals these still-dangerous weapons need to be used only as substitutes for firearms. They can’t be used as just another tool on the tool belt. As we’ve seen with tasers and pepper spray, these types of weapons are being used to subdue people even though they pose the risk of serious physical harm.”
He added, “Even more concerning is having these weapons for public order policing. I can imagine no situation, or am not aware of any situation that’s ever happened in San Diego County or is likely to happen that would justify using these weapons for public order policing to control a crowd. The main effect of having those weapons at public events is to chill people and chill free speech and free association.”
LRADs were developed by ATC at the request of the U.S. Navy after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole as a means of dissuading hostile invaders. ATC founder Elwood “Woody” Norris is a pioneer in sound technology who has also been instrumental in development of ultra-sound and ground penetrating radar.
Cruise ship Captain Michael Groves successfully repelled pirates off the Somali coast using non-lethal weapons including an LRAD. Groves has since filed suit against Carnival Cruise Line, claiming he suffered permanent hearing loss as a result, the BBC has reported. Navy News describes the LRAD as “louder than a jet engine” and helpfully explains that it overwhelms its targets with “sound so loud they hear it inside their heads.”
ATC initially sold LRADs primarily to the U.S. military, but has since sold products internationally and domestically. The company and its representatives have not limited sales to military, maritime and law enforcement personnel, however. Local lifeguards and even Liberty One Radio are among potential customers to whom ATC’s sales force has attempted to peddle LRADs.
Liberty One Radio host Mike Copass, a former Democratic Congressional candidate who ran against Davis, tried to interview the Sheriff’s officer who appeared to be in charge of the device, which was mounted on a Rhino all-terrain vehicle. But Magallanez said the official “acted as if he didn’t know what it was.”
East County Magazine contacted Lieutenant Anthony Ray at the Lemon Grove sheriff substation. “I was the incident commander,” said Ray, who confirmed that the device was an LRAD but was not sure of the model. “It’s a really loud speaker,” he said, adding that the device is used to assure that announcements can be heard over the din of a crowd. “We’ll often use a helicopter, but this is something portable,” he explained. The device has also been present at a sand-castle building competition in Imperial Beach and could be deployed at any large event locally, since the Sheriff’s office is sometimes subcontracted by other cities within San Diego County to provide security.
Asked if he was aware that the device had a deterrent capability that includes a directed sound loud enough to cause hearing loss, he replied, “You mean like they use in Iraq? I can’t imagine we’d do that, because it would hurt our own people at the same time…I can’t believe that we would use the kind of thing on a crowd that the military does,” he said, adding that the deputy on the Rhino was not wearing protective earphones. “There were deputies right in front, too,” he observed, but added that he would have to “go home and look this up on Google” to learn more.
In an interview last week with newly appointed Sheriff Bill Gore, formerly the Undersheriff, East County Magazine posed the following questions about LRADs.
ECM: Crowd control has been in the news with the Francine Busby pepper spray incident. Now some have expressed concern after spotting long-range acoustical devices (LRADs) at Congressional members Susan Davis and Darrell Issa town hall forums on healthcare. We understand these devices can be used as loudspeakers, to avoid need for a helicopter to address large crowds—
GORE: That’s not the primary purpose.
ECM: They’re also called sonic cannons, capable of directing a deterrent sound. They’ve been used in IRAQ on insurgents and to repel pirates.
GORE: That’s a precaution in case you need it.
ECM: LRADs can cause permanent hearing loss and other health problems. What make and model LRAD do you have, what are the guidelines for when these may be used, what training is provided, and how can you assure that your deputies and innocent bystanders won’t be hurt?
GORE: Our deputies have the required training.
He indicated that he did not consider LRAD technology to be a non-lethal weapon, such as tasers and pepper spray, then deferred other questions on this topic pending results of a public records request submitted by ECM.
However, Defense Update, a British defense contracting publication, lists LRADs as “non-lethal directed energy weapons. The publication states: “LRAD works like a highly directional, high power megaphone, able to blast sounds (such as crowd-dispersal instructions in Arabic) in a narrow beam and with great clarity at a deafening 150 decibels (50 times the human threshold of pain). LRAD can also create deafening noises which can incapacitate people within 300 meters by “firing” short bursts of intense acoustic energy.”
(For the remainder of this article, go here.)