Cease The Use of LRAD as Method for Crowd Control

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Erin McHugh
Erin McHugh signed this petition

It has come to our attention through numerous social media reports, as well as Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) 06/05/2020 news release, that the PPB is using a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) as a means of crowd control towards peaceful protesters in Portland [14]. It is being rumored that similar such devices are going to be used at protests in New York City, Orlando and Atlanta, though we have not been able to confirm the validity of those additional claims. We are asking for your support to cease the use of LRAD as a method of crowd control.

The LRAD brand weapon has a range of over five miles for speech, and a maximum output of 162 decibels (dB) at about 3 feet. This device can cause pain using 110 – 130 dB at 65 feet [5,6]. When following the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and CDC recommended exposure of this volume is permissible for anywhere from less than 2 minutes at 110 dB to under 1/100,000th of one second at 162 dB. Exposure to LRAD’s acoustical output puts civilians, bystanders and PPB officers at risk. Individuals directly exposed to this acoustic weapon at the G20 Summit experienced permanent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), eardrum perforation, ear pain, dizziness, and disorientation [7,8]. With the lack of covered audiologic services and hearing technology now gaining attention [21, 22, 23], citizens of the United States are becoming more knowledgeable and more concerned about hearing health.
While some descriptions of LRAD, including the PPB news release, frame it as an innocuous “communications” device, LRAD Corporation’s marketing statements reveal the truth: LRAD is a “high intensity directional acoustic hailer” designed for use by “military personnel” “in the harshest military conditions” and “allow[ing] for near-instantaneous escalation across the force protection spectrum” [5,11,14]. LRAD is a military-oriented weapon, more commonly known as a “sound gun” or “sound cannon”. The LRAD technology concentrates and directs harmfully loud and painful acoustic energy (sound) in a narrow beam at a target. This energy is so powerful that it can cause permanent and significant damage to an individual’s hearing [1,2]. As one victim of LRAD explains, “Your brain feels like it’s vibrating in a bowl of jelly on the table.” [1] Unsurprisingly, as Amnesty International has warned, when “[u]sed at close range, loud volume and/or excessive lengths of time, LRADs can pose serious health risks [3]. There is little external research or medical literature on the effects of acoustic weapons such as LRADs on an individual [4]. It is our hope as a member of the community that devices used against citizens have been effectively-researched, especially when they can cause permanent damage to such a vital sense.
LRAD technology has previously been abused in connection with civilian protests and other First Amendment-protected activity, despite the recommendation by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations to suspend the use of acoustic weapons for crowd control [4]. Law enforcement first unleashed the device on peaceful protesters at the 2009 G20 summit, resulting in pain and permanent hearing loss to both protesters and bystanders [9,10]. It was then re-deployed at Occupy Wall Street in 2011 [18], Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 [19], and once again, at Standing Rock [20].
I urge you to ask PPB and other officials to reconsider the use of these harmful devices on citizens. The direct physical and psychological harm that any deployment of the LRAD would have on protesters cannot be denied—and because of their ability to cause permanent damage, such deployment would constitute an excessive force in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment [12]. An additional concern is the effect that the Portland Police Department's possession of an LRAD has on people’s desire and ability to exercise their First Amendment rights [13]. The potential to cause permanent damage endangers not only protesters, but also journalists, observers, and other peaceful bystanders, further showing the indiscriminate, overbroad influence of LRAD. Keeping this in mind, I encourage you to question whether use of the LRAD aligns with the Portland Police Bureau’s mission statement to “reduce crime and the fear of crime by working with all citizens to preserve life, maintain human rights, protect property, and promote individual responsibility and community commitment” [17].


1. Pasternack, A. (2014, December 17). The New Sound of Crowd Control. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkve7q/the-new-sound-of-crowd-control
2. LRAD Corp., LRAD 100X MAG-HS Specifications Datasheet. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.dropbox.com/s/1a8q2hx1vcqqoof/LRAD_Datasheet_100X-MAG-HS (1).pdf?dl=0 (noting LRAD 100X’s “directionality, power & range”).
3. Amnesty International. (2014, October). On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson. Retrieved from https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/onthestreetsofamericaamnestyinternational.pdf
4. Physicians for Human Rights & International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (PMR & INCLO). (2019). Lethal in Disguise: The Health Consequences of Crowd-Control Weapons. Retrieved from https://www.inclo.net/pdf/lethal-in-disguise.pdf
5. LRAD Product Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20150408100425/http://www.lradx.com:80/site/content/view/33/47
6. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2018, February 6). Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/
7. Urbina, I. (2009, September 24). Protesters Are Met by Tear Gas at G-20 Conference. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/us/25pittsburgh.html
8. Weaver, M. (2009, September 25). G20 Protesters Blasted by Sonic Cannon. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/blog/2009/sep/25/sonic-cannon-g20-pittsburgh
9. Glassbeadian. (2009, September 26). Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) G20 Pittsburgh. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSMyY3_dmrM
10. Bowling, B. (2012, November 14). Pittsburgh to pay researchers who suffered hearing loss during the G-20 summit. Retrieved from https://archive.triblive.com/news/pittsburgh-to-pay-researcher-who-suffered-hearing-loss-during-g-20-summit
11. U.S. Military Orders $1.5 Million in LRAD 100X, 300X & 500X Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20130627003951/http://www.lradx.com/site/content/view/371/55
12. Edrei v. Maguire. (2018, June 13). Retrieved from https://casetext.com/case/edrei-v-maguire-1
13. White v. Lee. (2000, September 27). Retrieved from https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F3/227/227.F3d.1214.99-16033.99-15109.99-15098.html
14. Portland Police Bureau. (2020, June 5). 7th Day of Demonstrations in Portland-Peaceful March Ends, Several Hundred Remain-12 Arrested, Vehicles Towed. Retrieved from https://flashalert.net/id/portlandpolice
15. Purdue. (2000). Noise Sources and Their Effects. Retrieved from https://www.chem.purdue.edu/chemsafety/Training/PPETrain/dblevels.htm
16. CDC. (2019, October 7). What Noises Cause Hearing Loss? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
17. The City of Portland, Oregon. (2007, May 22). Mission, Values and Goals. Retrieved from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/28214
18. Franzen, C. (2011, November 17). LRAD Defends 'Sound Cannon' Use At Occupy Wall Street. Retrieved from https://talkingpointsmemo.com/idealab/lrad-defends-sound-cannon-use-at-occupy-wall-street
19. Newman, L. H. (2014, August 14). This Is the Sound Cannon Used Against Protesters in Ferguson. Retrieved from https://slate.com/technology/2014/08/lrad-long-range-acoustic-device-sound-cannons-were-used-for-crowd-control-in-ferguson-missouri-protests.html
20. Enzinna, W. (2016, October 31). I Witnessed Cops Using Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, and Sound Cannons Against Anti-Pipeline Protesters. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/standing-rock-protests-pipeline-police-tasers-teargas/
21. Warren, E., & Rice, T. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.warren.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/S2446 HR 4056 - Final Letter .pdf
22. Clason, L., & Siddons, A. (2019, December 11). Overlooked plans to add Medicare benefits get more attention. Roll Call. Retrieved from https://www.rollcall.com/2019/12/11/overlooked-plans-to-add-medicare-benefits-get-more-attention/
23. Copithorne, D. (2019, October 20). Will 2020 Be the Year Medicare Starts Covering Hearing Aids? HearingTracker. Retrieved from https://www.hearingtracker.com/news/will-2020-be-the-year-medicare-starts-covering-hearing-aids

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