Seattle, WA – Activists in Seattle are angry that police have started using a sound cannon to make announcements at protests despite complaining all summer that protesters couldn’t hear orders to disperse.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) deployed a recently-purchased Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) for the first time on election night, KOMO reported.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office made the recommendation to purchase the crowd-control device based on feedback from protesters that officers’ commands during violent protests and riots were not loud enough, or clear enough, to be understood by the crowd.
“While the LRAD system is loud, the Mayor believes erring on the side of clear, consistent communication is best as it relates to dispersal orders and the ongoing demonstrations. To date, our office has not received any complaints regarding the LRAD system,” the mayor’s office told KOMO.
Robert Putnam, an executive with LRAD-maker Genasys, said that used correctly, the device bolsters communication during difficult crowd situations by allowing police to “issue clear guidelines [and] clear warnings before they escalate.”
“That was one of the best defenses protesters used when they were arrested, saying they did not understand the instructions given, and so they shouldn’t be charged,” Putnam told KOMO.
But critics of the military-grade speakers complained the LRAD could cause permanent hearing damage to protesters.
The volume on the LRAD can be cranked as high as 149 decibels, KOMO reported.
That’s about how loud a commercial jet sounds at takeoff.
The device also has a feature that emits a high-pitched tone designed to help scatter a crowd, KOMO reported.
“These devices and other acoustic weapons emit loud painful and potentially dangerous levels of noise,” Molly Tack-Hooper, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, complained. “There are plenty of reports that these weapons can cause permanent hearing loss.”
Tack-Hooper said the ACLU would closely monitor how Seattle PD used the LRADs, KOMO reported.
But Seattle police said that feature will be disabled on the police department’s LRAD.
Also, the police department said officers won’t be cranking the device up to full volume, KOMO reported.
Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) said it would closely monitor the manner in which the department used the LRADs during protests.
Police have only purchased one of the units thus far, KOMO reported.
Each mobile LRAD unit costs up to $30,000 depending on the model and upgrades selected.
In September, LRADs made headlines after a whistleblower told Congress that the top military police officer in the District of Columbia (DC) had asked for information about additional non-lethal weapons the United States had in its crowd-control arsenal several hours before officers cleared Lafayette Square of violent protesters on the first day of June.
DC National Guard Major Adam Demarco submitted written statements to the House Committee on Natural Resources that included an email from the provost marshal of Joint Force Headquarters, NPR reported.
DeMarco said the email from the provost marshal asked if they had an LRAD or an Active Denial System (ADS) available in their arsenal.
An ADS, more commonly referred to a “heat ray,” emits a direct beam of energy that causes a burning heat sensation without actually burning the skin, the Associated Press reported.
Colonel Robert Phillips, a spokesperson for the Joint Force Headquarters Command, confirmed that the question was asked but said it was done “as a matter of due diligence and prudent military planning,” NPR reported.
Phillips said the command “inquired informally about capabilities across the full-spectrum of non-lethal systems, to include the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) and Active Denial System (ADS).”
“JFHQ-NCR does not possess these systems, did not request such systems, and no further action was taken as a result of the officer’s E-Mail query,” the colonel added, according to NPR.
DeMarco, who has sought whistleblower protection, said in his statement that the provost marshal’s email had opined that “ADS can provide our troops a capability they currently do not have, the ability to reach out and engage potential adversaries at distances well beyond small arms range, and in a safe, effective, and non-lethal manner.”
“The D.C. National Guard was not in possession of either an LRAD or an ADS,” DeMarco said he responded to the email about 30 minutes after he received it.
Interestingly, NPR reported that authorities may have violated court-ordered regulations on how protesters are to be warned in the nation’s capital by failing to use an LRAD.
The 2015 settlement surrounding the mass arrest of protesters in Lafayette Park declared that police were required to give multiple orders to disperse that could be heard for several blocks.
Protesters have complained they heard no announcements to disperse and received no audible warnings before police deployed teargas and other less-lethal munitions in front of the White House on June 1, NPR reported.
U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory Monahan told lawmakers in July that Park Police followed the rules in that agreement.
“The protocol was followed,” Chief Monahan told the committee under oath, according to NPR. “There were three warnings given and they were given utilizing a Long Range Acoustic Device; it’s called an LRAD, that’s what it stands for, that was the device used.”
But DeMarco said in his statement to the committee that the National Guard “was not in possession” of an LRAD on the day in question, NPR reported.
“There is zero evidence that there were any officers who can testify that they were in the farthest reaches of the crowd,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who helped write the settlement agreement with the Park Police that created the new rule. “There has to be documentation that the notice was given multiple times, and there are supposed to be recordings made that the notice was given. We wrote all these in specifically for this reason. In fact, unfortunately, it would appear in anticipation of what happened in Lafayette Park.