Is the LRAD disabled, or not?
By Miriam Raftery
January 28, 2010 (San Diego) San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore drew sharp criticism from the public and his three political opponents following an article we published last fall, revealing that his office purchased a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) and rolled it out at Congressional healthcare forums and other events. The Sheriff’s office held a press conference in September to announce that the sonic weapons feature had been “disabled.”
Now the Sheriff has removed a press release discussing the disabling of the sonic weapons feature from the homepage and from the archives at his website. We contacted the Sheriff’s spokeperson, Jan Caldwell, to ask why the release was removed and whether the sonic weapons feature has been reenabled.
“This is the particular piece of equipment whose function is to make public address announcements when there are larger than normal assemblages. As you know, there has been a great deal of misinformation concerning this apparatus,” she replied. “The LRAD owned by the San Diego Sheriff's Department does not emit disruptive low-frequency or microwaves harmful to humans. Information pertaining to the LRAD was taken down from our website last week to keep the website informational and current.”
But that's not the full story. It’s true that the 500-x model LRAD can be used for announcements, and has applications in search and rescue missions. It does not emit microwaves frequencies (and we never said it did). However, the LRAD 500-x does have the ability to produce sound waves severe enough to cause damage to eardrums or other health concerns.
The manufacturer’s specifications and training manual, interesting, are no longer accessible on American Technology’s website without a password. Just what is it that the local company doesn’t want the public to see?
Fortunately, East County Magazine has documents obtained through a public records request from the Sheriff’s office, from a prior Internet search including information from Lorimar, a distributor of the LRAD 500x, and through Liberty One Radio, which inquired of the manufacturer about purchasing a device for use to control crowds at a concert.
The training manual clearly states that the LRAD family includes a “deterrent system” that can provide a “positive force escalation sequence”, with a maximum decibel range of 148dB. The manual further cites use of LRADs in military applications, such as by Naval ships, that progress from a light tone to warnings to use of “lethal force.”
The manual warns that “exposure to continuous, varying, intermittent, or impulsive noise shall not exceed 140 dB” and warns personnel operating the unit to wear earplugs to protect hearing.
According to the federal government’s National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders, “long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” (http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/noise.asp)
A science article in “How Stuff Works” describes how loud or high-pitched noises cross a “threshold of pain” at around 130 dB. It notes that the LRAD’s job is to make “very loud sound that is audible over relatively long distances. But it’s not limited to producing painful noise for use as a weapon,” then notes that it can also be used to amplify voices or recordings. It describes the LRAD’s use as a “non-lethal weapon” which can be used to repel pirates at sea or by military forces on land.
In a debate among Sheriff’s candidates September 12th, Gore’s three opponents all criticized his use of the LRAD.
“They are very, very lethal weapons,” said candidate Jay LaSuer during that debate. “They are military weapons. They have no place in law enforcement,” he said, further criticizing the Sheriff for stationing the devices at Congressional town hall meetings on healthcare.
Speaking to ECM today, LaSuer said he believes the Sheriff should have left the press release up on his website to be open and transparent to the public. He also disputed Caldwell’s suggestion that the LRAD does not have potential to cause harm, adding that he has conducted his own research on the device. “My understanding is it can be very, very damaging and at close range it can cause death. I’m very surprised that this would be deployed in America where the potential is to cause harm against Americans.”
During the debate, candidate Jim Duffy called the $40,000 spent on the LRAD a waste of money, adding, “I don’t think it belongs in our arsenal…It should never have been purchased and secondly, should not have been deployed in that environment.”
Told of Caldwell’s statement implying the device can’t cause harm, Duffy told East County Magazine today, “It can cause harm. The sound levels it produces are capable of that and that is one of the reasons for the device,” he said, adding that LRADs can produce ”a sound pressure wave that’s painful for people to experience and therefore they don’t stand in their way.
He questioned whether the device could be disabled, adding that there is no switch to turn off potentially harmful sound waves. He also questioned the Sheriff’s contention that the device was suited for search and rescues or ordering evacuations of large areas. “It produces a very narrow targeted sound beam, pencil thin. The person 20 feet on each side of you can’t hear what’s being said” Duffy noted, adding that rescue and evacuation operations should require a sound system with a broader reach.
Bruce Ruff, also a candidate, accused the Sheriff’s office of buying “whiz bang gadgetry” and not fully training personnel in use of the LRAD. In the debate, he held up ECM's article on the sonic weapons controversy, but hinted that he might support use of an LRAD for purposes other than crowd control. “We’re not using this LRAD at the border to stop stuff; we’re not using it to stop terrorists,” he said, arguing for a need to secure our region and our border.
ECM responded to Caldwell’s email by pointing out that training manuals indicate the device can produce sound waves loud enough to cause harm; we again asked whether the Sheriff’s LRAD is disabled or not.
At press deadline, we have not received a response.