Among the anti-protest arsenal being used against Occupy Wall Street protesters is a sound amplifier developed by the military. The Long Range Acoustical Device can blast a small area with 110 decibels of sound, equivalent to a power saw at close range.
The New York City Police Department says this sound blaster is not being used as a "sound cannon" which is what the military designed it for. They say it's just being used as a loudspeaker, so they can get their points across to a large group.
The New York Daily News reports that Police spokesman Paul Browne says,
“We don’t use it to disrupt. We don’t use it as some horrible noisemaker. We set it up away from where a crowd is. We create a 50-foot safety zone. It sends out a clear, uniform message that can be heard for several blocks.”
LRAD, the California company that invented the device says it was developed after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 to enable naval ships to communicate with anyone approaching. The system sends out a highly magnified beam of sound very much like the way a lens focuses on a beam of light.
The company steers clear of saying that its device can be used as a weapon and doesn't discuss the potential harmful physical effects of being bombarded with ear-splitting noise at close range.
LRAD vice president of business development Scott Stuckey instead asks these questions,
“Can your car horn be used as a weapon? Can you play loud noise with the LRAD? Absolutely. They could cover their ears if it’s too loud.”
Critics warn that the devices could potentially be misused by civilian agencies and cause hearing loss, headaches or nausea. The New York Civil Liberties Union said the $35,000 devices are really only useful for communication purposes. Christopher Dunn is associate legal director,
"It clearly can be used to disperse people. They cause physical pain to make people move. Making announcements that people can hear is always good. Using a sonic cannon to disperse people is not.”
Dunn also says the NYPD currently has two LRADs.
TPM reports that as might be expected, Occupy Wall Street supporters have blasted the New York Police Department’s use of Long Range Acoustic Devices to respond to the civil disobedience actions that sprang up throughout Manhattan this week.
But LRAD Corporation's Stuckey says,
“The police are likely using it to communicate with the protesters. Megaphones aren’t loud enough to reach people over a large, crowded space, with lots of background noise.”
And in fact, the LRAD website advertises the products to law enforcement and military clients as being a variety of a high-intensity directional acoustic hailer designed for long-range communication and issuing powerful warning tones.
Occupy Wall Street protesters and supporters are trying to do what they can to block this latest onslaught. They have been circulating strategies online, ranging from using a flat object to reflect the sound back at the devices and their operators, to buying Air Force-grade ear plugs.
But Stuckey says nothing is likely to work, that his company's products enable law enforcement to communicate clearly and efficiently. He also says his company has "louder projects on the drawing board", but they shouldn't be used in the Occupy type of environment.
Still, Stuckey offers assurances that the decibel level of the handheld LRAD his company sells is “not as loud as flash bang grenades” now being used by many police departments. It was used, he says, by officers responding to the Oakland demonstrations on October 25, who detonated a flash bang after a crowd rushed to help a 24-year-old ex-Marine injured by a shot to his head by a police tear gas canister.