The Legality of Law Enforcement’s Use of LRAD, Sound, And Other Nonlethal Crowd Control Weapons

Given three guesses, we’re willing to wager that you wouldn’t be able to guess the hottest trend in nonlethal weapons used by law enforcement for crowd control: sound.

The idea of using sound as a weapon dates all the way back to Biblical times, and it’s still in use today. In fact, just weeks ago a judge in Portland ruled that law enforcement could no longer use noise laws to quiet anti-abortion protestors.

When noise laws aren’t being sited, high-tech equipment can be deployed for similar purposes. In police departments around the country, LRAD systems are now a common piece of equipment that is requisitioned to combat the threat of angry mobs and civil disobedience.

What is LRAD?

LRAD stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, and it is an acoustic hailing device used for long-range communications in a variety of purposes, including non-lethal, non-kinetic crowd control.

According to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, “The LRAD can reach decibel levels as high as 162. For comparison, a normal conversation is usually 60 decibels, while a lawn mower can reach up to 90 decibels. A level of 130 decibels is typically considered the average pain threshold for most humans.” What’s more, Informed Health Online notes that a jet engine registers at about 142 decibels, and anything above this level is considered acoustic trauma.

LRAD has been used several times in the past by law enforcement in the US, including the following events:

  • 2004 NYC Republican convention
  • 2009 Pittsburgh G20 summit
  • Occupy Oakland protests in 2011
  • Eric Garner protests in NYC in 2014

Beyond LRAD, there are also many other options for nonlethal weapons used by law enforcement that sound like they are right out of a sci-fi novel!

The Legality of LRAD and Nonlethal Weapons

By and large, these weapons and tactics are in fact used legally. If that surprises you, that’s probably because they tend to skirt the line between nonlethal and lethal weapon. There are, of course, several restrictions on nonlethal weapons that cause require their designs to comply with particular standards.

This topic is a perfect example of how laws need to be specifically worded. Laws bind both civilians and law enforcement, and both will attempt to find the cracks in them that allow them to do what they want. Therefore, lawmakers need to stay extra vigilant so that they create laws that can’t be abused by either side.