Six high-tech "less-lethal" weapons that could ruin your day

lrad in NYC/

It is amazing that over time humans in general have never been at a loss to develop new and unique ways to inflict pain and damage to other humans.

With millions of development dollars flowing into the research of these systems, it is at least encouraging to see the government recognize that the emergence of new, high-tech, less-lethal weapons poses a number of possible issues: death, significant injuries and civil rights problems among them. 

The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General this week unwrapped a report that looks at a number of the issues around these future technologies such as the long-range acoustic device - currently used by the New York Police Department -that incapacitates individuals using high-energy sound waves aimed at a specific target as well as the now widely used Taser.  

According to the report, this emerging class of less-lethal technologies includes:

Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD)

Emits a concentrated, 150-decibel [dB] high-energy acoustic wave that retains a level of 100dB over distances of 500 meters. The wave is focused within a 15- to 30-degree "beam," allowing the LRAD to be aimed at a specific target. Used by the New York Police Department.


An electroshock weapon that forms an electrically conductive laser-induced plasma channel. A powerful electric current is sent down the plasma channel to incapacitated subjects. The weapon functions as a long-distance version of the Taser. Developed for the US military.


Employs intense visible light usually generated by a laser to cause temporary blindness or disorientation. Used by the US military in Iraq.

Active Denial System

Emits electromagnetic radiation at a frequency of 95 GHz toward the subject. The waves deter individuals by causing an intense painful burning sensation without actually burning the skin. Developed by the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

Sticky Foam Gun

Fires multiple shots of sticky material that entangles and impairs individuals. Provided to the US Marine Corps for Operation United Shield.

LED Incapacitator

Resembling a large flashlight, this weapon uses light emitting diode (LED) lights flashed at several frequencies with multiple colors and random pulses that the brain cannot process. The result is that the suspect becomes physically ill. Developed for the US Department of Homeland Security.

Interestingly the inspector general's report stated some of these weapons will present new challenges concerning deployment and oversight to ensure proper use, particularly since some of these weapons leave no marks or residue when used.

The inspector general conducted this review to determine the types of less-lethal weapons used by the Department's law enforcement components; the extent to which the components are using these weapons; whether training and controls have been implemented to ensure the weapons are used properly; whether Departments have identified the impact of using these weapons on their missions; and whether the Department assesses, deploys, and oversees new and emerging less-lethal weapon technologies.

The Department's law enforcement components include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP); and United States Marshals Service (USMS).

The report notes that there have been no reported fatalities resulting from the use of less-lethal weapons by Department entities. However, fatalities have occurred at the state and local level, particularly following the use of conducted energy devices. For example, one recent study reported that over the last 8 years 334 people have died after being subjected to a Taser discharge by state or local law enforcement officers. Medical examiners concluded that the use of a Taser contributed to or caused at least 50 of these fatalities. The remaining 284 fatalities were largely attributed to other factors such as drug intoxication, the report states.

In the end the report makes 4 key recommendations to federal law enforcement:

1. The DOJ coordinate and ensure that its components develop appropriate and consistent policies to specifically address the use of less-lethal weapons, including conducted energy devices, by Department personnel and state and local law enforcement officers serving on Department task forces.

2. The law enforcement components establish procedures to ensure that state and local task force members are informed of and adhere to the components' less-lethal weapons policies.

3. The law enforcement components periodically analyze their use of less-lethal weapons, including any injuries, fatalities, or misuse; analyze benefits from use of such weapons; and assess emerging trends in the use of such weapons.

4. The National Institute of Justice and Civil Rights Division share the results of any research, reviews, or investigations concerning the use of less-lethal weapons with the Department's law enforcement arms. Given the sensitive nature of some of this information, the Department components should develop protocols to ensure appropriate dissemination of the NIJ's and the Civil Rights Division's work.

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