Vancouver to tone down its "sonic gun"

Tue Nov 17, 2009 6:14pm EST
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Powerful audio equipment that critics had complained could used as a "sonic gun" against protesters at next year's Winter Olympics, will be modified to disable its ability to be used as a weapon, Vancouver police said on Tuesday.

Police had said they only planned to use the so-called long range acoustic device (LRAD) as a public address system to communicate with large crowds, and not as a weapon. However, they will now disable its "tone" capability.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association had complained the LRAD was a "sonic gun" intended to be used as a weapon to force any protesters to disperse during next year's Winter Games in Vancouver.

The group said the LRAD had the ability to emit a blast of sound loud enough to cause hearing damage and temporary vision disruption, and not enough was known about the possible safety risks.

If the department decides to "explore any alternate uses for the device" in the future, it will first develop the policies and training programs, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said in a statement.

The LRAD can blast sounds of up to 152 decibels within one meter of the device and issue warnings over water to vessels up 3 km (2 miles) away. Sounds louder than a range of 120 to 140 decibels can cause pain and damage to human hearing.

Manufacturer American Technology Corp says the LRAD that it sells to military and police forces is not a weapon, but allows them to broadcast information from a safe distance and create "standoff and safety zones" that help prevent the use of deadly force.

(Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)