Nonlethal Weapon Used on Pirates, Deployed in California by Sheriff

By Matthew Harwood

A long range acoustic device (LRAD), used to fend off Somali pirates, radical environmentalists, and Iraqi insurgents by their adversaries, was deployed by police recently at local political events in California, reports San Diego-based East County Magazine.

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.

And as's Danger Room observes, the acoustic device can irreparably damage human hearing, depending on how its owner uses it. It can blast sounds at 150 decibels—"50 times the human threshold of pain," East County Magazine reports.

ATC spokesman Robert Putnam told the magazine a demonstrator would have to stand inside the device's beam for a long time before any damage was done.

“You’d have to be in close proximity for several minutes in order to have any damage at all," he said. "If you willingly stand in that beam for an extended situation, then that’s your choice. There’s no way a large crowd would stay.”

Putnam added that the whole point behind LRADs is to disperse crowds without harming them among other uses, such as warning a fishing vessel that it has wandered too close to a military vessel.

The device was originally designed by ATC after the U.S. Navy to deter attackers after the U.S.S. Cole suicide bombing in 2000, when two al Qaeda terrorists slammed an explosive-laden small boat into the destroyer in the Gulf of Aden. The attack killed 17 crewmen and wounded 47 others.

East County Magazine asked newly appointed San Diego Sheriff, Bill Gore, whether officers had enough training to use the device safely. "Our deputies have the required training," he told the magazine. 

For more on LRADs, watch this report from the Associated Press.

♦ Photo by baratunde/Flickr


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