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Tempe, Phoenix police lack policies on deploying ‘sound cannons’

By: - November 16, 2018 1:25 pm

A police vehicle in Warsaw, Poland, equipped with the LRAD 500X acoustic device, during the 2011 March of Independence. Photo by Adam Kliczek, http://zatrzymujeczas.pl ( CC-BY-SA-3.0 ) | Wikipedia

The Phoenix Police Department recently won city council approval to purchase a device critics call a “sound cannon,” making it the second Valley law enforcement agency, along with the Tempe Police Department, to own the equipment.

Even though the device, known as an LRAD, can cause permanent hearing loss when used, neither agency has a policy guiding officers on how to use it.

LRAD stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, and is also the name of the most commonly used manufacturer of the device.

Phoenix PD has stood by its decision to purchase an LRAD, despite concerns from activist groups who worry about how the device will be used. Phoenix PD spokeswoman Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said the department is drafting a policy for using its LRAD, but nothing has been finalized.

Tempe has no policy on how the device is to be used.

Both Phoenix and Tempe have said the device is to be used to communicate with large crowds or a barricaded suspect.

The purpose of the speaker is to be able to communicate in a clear concise manner in tactical situations when making announcements,” Tempe spokeswoman Det. Lily Duran said to the Mirror in an email.

However, the device is capable of emitting a high-pitched tone that can reach 140 dB, louder than a jet engine and enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The device has been used by the military in Iraq and by police departments across the nation as a form of crowd control that causes loud noises that end up causing pain and discomfort to those caught in front of them. In many cases, American law enforcement agencies have used LRADs to disperse protestors.

Phoenix is purchasing two LRAD 500X devices, the same model Tempe purchased in 2016.

Currently, only Tempe and Phoenix have the equipment.

Duran did not respond to questions about whether Tempe police would ever use the device’s high-tone functionality.

However, in a meeting with the city council earlier this month, Phoenix PD told the city council it doesn’t intend to “weaponize” the LRAD or use it past the threshold of 113 dB.

For comparison, that is about as loud as a live rock concert or a riveting machine.

The police department also told the council that it will put the 113 dB threshold into its policy on how LRAD’s will be used.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.