The Vancouver Police Department has just bought an LRAD 500X, a device capable of directing an ear-splitting sound burst of up to 150 decibels, louder than standing next to an air raid siren or a 737 during takeoff.

Similar devices have been used to ward off pirates on the high seas, dispel crowds at September’s G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, by the U.S. military to maintain order in an Iraqi prison camp, against protesters in Tbilisi, Georgia, by the freedom-loving People’s Republic of China, the government of Honduras, and the Japanese whaling fleet to discourage the Sea Shepherd Society from attacking its boats.

The LRAD 500X looks a little bit like a satellite dish mounted on a swivel, with handles that allow the operator to point it directly at the, uh, target. Here’s what the manufacturer has to say:


“LRAD 500X operators have the ability to issue clear, authoritative verbal commands, followed with powerful deterrent tones to enhance response capabilities.”

The VPD cheerfully advises us not to worry. The LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) will be used only as a loudspeaker, and “any suggestions that the device will be used as a weapon or characterizations of it as a sonic gun are ridiculous.”

Well, that’s a relief, considering that ear pain begins at about 130 decibels and ear drums rupture at 160.

So far, the VPD has only used it to communicate with crowds at the Celebration of Light fireworks festival, but a VPD spokesman has refused to rule out enhancing our response capabilities: “This device could be used if the situation arose. ... We can't rule out anything,” Const. Lindsey Houghton told a local reporter.

The ever-vigilant B.C. Civil Liberties Association is not reassured by the VPD, and wonders if the LRAD was purchased to blast Olympic protesters into submission, but Chief Const. Jim Chu dismisses that idea:

“It is understandable that there may be some people opposed to the Games who wish to use fear to rally others to their cause. Creating fear about the use of a public address system seems to fall into this category.”

So this high-tech supersonic whistle will only be used for peaceful information-dissemination purposes. But if you don’t get — or don’t heed — the message, the VPD reserves the right to follow that up with “powerful deterrent tones” to enhance your response capabilities.

That Big Brother. Now his bark is as bad as his bite.

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