Friday, April 29, 2005

New Horizons in Crowd Control 

Darned shame the NYPD didn't have access to this technology during the Republican Convention. Ah, well, maybe next time:
DO YOU prefer your police officers to be armed with a gun or a good old-fashioned truncheon or night stick? Or perhaps something in between: say a radio-frequency stun weapon, or a semiconductor laser that can bring down a man from across the street?

Such "less lethal" weapons are closer to reality than many people realise. New Scientist has learned that the research arm of the US justice department, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is funding research into three such devices, all of which are intended to be used by the nation's police forces to bring down suspects and control crowds. In theory they should be less harmful to both their intended targets and bystanders than existing weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets. But such is the secrecy shrouding the new weapons that it is impossible for independent outsiders to judge . . . .

In a statement given to New Scientist, the NIJ has provided a limited description of all three devices. The first is a radio-frequency weapon being developed by Raytheon at Palo Alto, California, which appears to be based on a similar concept to the Active Denial System weapon that Raytheon developed for the US marines in 2001. The military version is designed to heat people's skin with a 95-gigahertz microwave beam (New Scientist, 27 October 2001, p 26). With a range of 600 metres, it causes severe pain but, according to Raytheon, no damage. The NIJ has contracted the company to build a prototype suitable for use by police forces. Because it will be portable, it will presumably use less power and work over a shorter range.

The second device is described by the NIJ as "the first man-portable heat compliance weapon of its kind". It uses a semiconductor laser for "force protection, crowd control, and access denial". Though the Air Force Research Laboratory in Kirtland, New Mexico, has been contracted to produce a test-bed system, there is no known weapon, military or otherwise, that appears to work this way. Its effects and effectiveness can only be guessed at . . . .

A third type of less-lethal weapon commissioned by the NIJ is a laser which produces a "plasma flash bang" at the point of impact, stunning and disorienting the victim. This is similar to the Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP) system developed for the US marines (
New Scientist, 5 March, p 8). The military system uses a chemical laser and weighs around 200 kilograms. The NIJ has commissioned Sterling Photonics of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to produce a "technology platform" for a police version that will be electrically powered and portable.
We are especially taken with the portable version of the Active Denial System. Why ship ghost detainees to Uzbekistan to be dipped in a bubbling cauldron when we can generate the same sensation of pain right here at home -- non-lethally?

We could retire our fleet of black Gulfstreams. Think of the savings!

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