Police confirm use of controversial LRAD device at Canberra protest

The device has been the subject of wild claims, but what actually is it and how was it used in Canberra?

Police confirm use of controversial LRAD device at Canberra protest
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What started out at the beginning of the week as the ‘stuff of conspiracy theories’ was eventually confirmed by Police.

Australian Capital Territory Policing admitted that they did use a Long Range Acoustic Device (also known as a LRAD) during the Canberra Convoy Freedom rallies outside Parliament House.

A number of wild theories and have emerged online about how the LRAD device was used in Canberra and claims of injury, but the actual effects are well documented.

Reports are still coming in on various injuries at the protest – most relating to what looks like sunburn and heat stroke. There are also clear allergic reactions from what some speculate might be contact with chemicals.

The LRAD device has two modes. One setting turns it into a crowd control tool – also referred to as a ‘sound canon’, ‘acoustic hailing device’, or a ‘sonic weapon’ – and the other mode, which is what was used in Canberra, makes the LRAD a loudspeaker or amplification device to relay messages to the crowd.

A spokesperson for police released a statement to The Epoch Times confirming, “ACT Policing has deployed several types of loudspeakers and amplification devices to quickly and effectively convey voice messages to large, and often loud, crowds of people during the recent protest activity in Canberra.”

However, this confirmation came only after One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts and Liberal Senator Alex Antic brought up the issue in Senate estimates on February 14.

Malcolm Roberts’ office was inundated with complaints from protesters all week wanting to know what had happened during the rally – prompting him to pass on these public concerns.

That would be something that is with our police methodology which we would have to look at some type of public interest immunity claim, Senator,” said the Australia Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw, when questioned by Senator Roberts.

Surely it’s in the public interest to know whether or not they [LRADs] were there without delving too much into it?

I’d have to […] If I could take that on notice, I’d have to get advice.”

Senator Antic, who attended Senate estimates virtually, held up a photo of the LRAD device beside members of the police force. Despite the visual evidence in front of Kershaw, he still chose to defer the answer.

With the benefit of having that photograph which tends to confirm it [the claims that there was an LRAD present], we still can’t confirm that that device was there on the day?” asked Senator Antic, still holding the photograph.

Kershaw insisted that the question had already been taken on notice.

The LRAD was used in Canberra only as a means of communicating with the crowd.

Its use has, however, alarmed many public observers as the LRAD is technically a sonic crowd control weapon that, if used in its other setting, projects extremely loud sounds over long distances to cripple a crowd. The ‘alert setting’ on the device is particularly dangerous and has been known to cause permanent hearing damage, dizziness, disorientation, and brain damage.

Essentially the device ‘chirps’ at the crowd causing pain and potentially permanent hearing damage. Its use on crowds remains highly controversial, with the NYPD ending up in federal court where it was recommended that their use against protesters on the alert setting be suspended.

LRADs have been employed in military settings, such as by the United States in 2004, as a form of non-lethal combat. An LRAD was used against crowds at the 2009 G20 summit in its weaponised mode, causing serious and permanent injuries. It was also reported to have been used against the Occupy Oakland crowd in 2011.

Like a water canon pushes the crowd back with the force of a liquid, sound canons use waves of noise to bombard people. These can be targeted onto specific parts of the crowd.

In the US, it is frequently used on crowds in its loudspeaker mode, as was done in Canberra. Many other countries also employ LRADs for crowd communication purposes.

The Australian Federal Police, Queensland Police, South Australian Police, Western Australian Police, and Australia Victorian Police have all confirmed that they have purchased one of these devices. The Northern Territory and New South Wales police forces did not comment.

LRADs are used in a wide range of settings and by various government departments, usually on its loudspeaker mode. It is also used at runways, solar and wind farms and agricultural operations to frighten animals away from equipment.

The ABC ran a report concerned about the purchase of these devices back in 2016.

‘They can break up protests with loud, piercing sound, but Long Range Acoustic Devices can also cause permanent hearing damage. Australian law enforcement agencies are now investing in the technology, but sound and law experts say their potential use is extremely concerning.’

At the time, Melbourne University expert James Parker told the ABC, “The secrecy of the state around the tools, the weapons that it has and is capable of using on its population is something to be really, really concerned about. It expands the nature of police/state/military authority in a certain kind of way. It makes sound itself part of the arsenal that police and military and state institutions use.”

While there is no evidence that LRADs were used in their alert capacity in Canberra, there is a genuine question about whether or not police would have done so if the crowd was not as well behaved as they were.

The Canberra Convoy – created in sympathy with the Canadian Freedom Convoy in Ottawa – turned into one of the largest protests in Canberra’s history, culminating in a huge gathering in front of Parliament House.

During the day’s events, livestreamers and members of the independent press reported that they had a lot of trouble with their feeds. Attendees also reported poor or no reception for large parts of the day.

This is considered highly unusual, as the area around Parliament House has additional infrastructure particularly to deal with increased loads caused by protests and other political operations – given that it is the heart of Australia’s political landscape.

There are as-yet unconfirmed reports that two Telstra towers went down during the day, explaining why the other towers ended up overloaded resulting in what became a black spot for phones.

At least the Police Commissioner agreed with Senator Antic that – with only three arrests for a very large crowd – the protesters in Canberra were well behaved.
‘Mostly peaceful’ Kershaw agreed, but added that he did not like their attitudes. “Pretty well behaved. A lot of poor attitudes though, but there’s no offence for that. So police did cop a fair bit of abuse, but again, it didn’t cross into the criminal threshold.”

Compared to Black Lives Matter protesters in previous years calling ‘all cops bastards’, displaying artwork featuring burning police cars with the word ‘pigs’ written across them, and demanding the complete dismantling of the police force – the Canberra Convoy was very well behaved during the weeks it spent gathering size in Canberra.

Still, it would be of significant public interest to have a definitive answer on whether or not police had been authorised to use the LRAD in its other capacity.

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  • By Avi Yemini

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