by Puck Lo
Updated: The Oakland Police Department has shelved its controversial new crowd-control weapon, a sonic cannon capable of causing extreme pain, because of efforts by activists who posted links on Facebook to the recent purchase order of the Long Range Acoustic Device 300 X Mass Communications System.
“The LRAD is a very dangerous device that can cause permanent hearing loss. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union recently obtained an injunction against LRAD deployment in Toronto, Canada, after police threatened its use during the recent G-20 summit,” Oakland attorney Michael Siegel wrote in the Facebook note in which he tagged hip hop journalist Davey D and Oakland Councilwoman Jean Quan.
Long Range Acoustic Devices were originally developed for intelligible, high-volume communication at sea. But the “alert” blast setting on the device is what most concerns activists.
“The pitch of a sonic cannon is intended to be intolerable and to force dispersal of crowds,” audiologists testified in the Canadian Civil Liberties Union petition. According to the report, the “alert” function of the sound cannon emits sound beams at a frequency that damages the inner ear.
“OPD should not use such a dangerous and little-understood device on Oakland civilians. This device appears unfit for any use at all, much less against local residents exercising their First Amendment rights of expression and association,” Siegel wrote, referring to the impending demonstration scheduled for the day of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle’s trial verdict.
The letter spurred Quan and council President Jane Brunner to call Police Chief Anthony Batts. The following day, Siegel said, Batts told Quan and Brunner that he would not deploy the weapon against protesters who will convene at City Hall on the night of the verdict.
“Pressure culminated quickly,” Siegel said. “It was a victory.”
Update: Quan said it was unclear how much the Oakland Police Department paid for the sonic cannon or where it got the money to do so. But according to this source, sonic cannons cost $675,000.
Associate editor Robert Gammon contributed to this report.