Police consider controversial device for protests

2015-01-22 10:29
The LRAD (YouTube)

The LRAD (YouTube)

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Cape Town - As service delivery protests continue in Limpopo and are expected to increase in the months leading up to the 2016 municipal elections, police are considering using a controversial new weapon that critics have warned could be very dangerous.

A document presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee on police showed an estimated R1.9m had been budgeted for equipment known as Long Range Acoustic Devices, reported the Times.

The device produces messages and pain-inducing tones over long distances, reported Gizmodo website in August last year.

It was developed to deter pirates and terrorists after the attack on the USS Cole by al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2000.

Used on Ferguson protesters

It was first used for crowd control in the US in 2009 during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. In a video on YouTube, a crowd of people, among them journalists, are seen running away as police switch on the LRAD which emits a high-pitched siren.


It was also recently used on US protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the Gizmodo report, those within one metre of the device will experience 162 decibels of deterrent sounds. Humans can stand only 120 decibels for a short time.

According to the Saps document, the LRAD is a non-lethal intervention but critics say it can cause eardrum rupture and permanent deafness.

There were 1 907 violent protests across South Africa in the 2013-2014 financial year, the Times reported the police as saying.

But critics of the LRAD warn that should police use it, protesters along with innocent bystanders and children will be equally affected.

US woman sued city over LRAD use

University of Johannesburg journalism professor Jane Duncan also warns that it is “bad news” for the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest in South Africa.

She also warned that the device would not help police isolate disorderly protest members.

Unisa criminologist Rudolph Zinn told the Times the LRAD had not yet been internationally tried or tested.

In 2011, a woman sued the US city of Pittsburgh for using the equipment during a peaceful demonstration, wrote the International Business Times.

She sustained permanent hearing loss, nausea, pain and disorientation from the device after stopping on her bike to watch the demonstration in a park. She claimed that the LRAD was mounted on a vehicle 30m away.

In a report on human rights abuses during the Ferguson protests in August last year, Amnesty International wrote about use of the LRAD: "The LRAD was pointed at group of stationary protestors on the street approximately 15 feet away. Members of the media and observers were likewise about the same distance from the device.

"No warning from law enforcement that an LRAD would be used was given to the protesters. After providing earplugs to a member of Amnesty International, a St Louis County police officer says, ‘This noise will make you sick.’

"Several members of the (AI) delegation reported feeling nauseous from the noise of the LRAD until it was turned off... Further research into the use of LRADs for law enforcement is urgently needed."

Read more on:    police  |  service delivery  |  protests

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