Concerns Raised Over Device NY Police Used During Garner Protests

Amid police warnings for protesters to stay off the streets or risk arrest last week, a distinctly different and piercing sound could be heard.

The loud beeps came from a long-range acoustic device, a piece of equipment that can shriek repetitive blasts of noise at a volume of up to 152 decibels.

The New York Police Department bought two of the devices in 2004, at $35,000 apiece, in preparation for the Republican National Convention in 2004. At the time, police officials said that they would be used only for announcements, and that their shrill deterrent function would not be employed.

But during the protests that followed a grand jury?s decision not to bring criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner after a confrontation with the police on Staten Island, the police activated the piercing beeps.

Videos posted on YouTube and Instagram captured the sounds and their effect: Protesters in Midtown Manhattan were sent scattering, some covering their ears. Word spread among some demonstrators, and foam earplugs were handed out.

Anika Edrei, a student at the International Center of Photography who came close to the device while documenting the protests, called the beeps ?emotionally jarring.?

?Once the adrenaline wore off, I started feeling pressure on my forehead like a migraine,? Ms. Edrei said. ?Then I was disoriented and a little dizzy.?

On Friday, three lawyers sent a letter to Police Commissioner William J. Bratton asking that the devices not be used for deterrent purposes until the police had fully tested them, adopted public guidelines for their use and trained officers in how to properly operate them.

The lawyers, Gideon O. Oliver, Elena Cohen and Mark D. Taylor, added that Freedom of Information requests made in 2011 and 2012, under the supervision of a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, had not yielded directives, policies or manuals adopted by the police related to the devices. They say that the apparent lack of documents suggests that formal guidelines for the devices? use may not exist.

?They are designed to perform crowd control and other functions ? to modify behavior, and force compliance, by hurting people,? the lawyers wrote.

A spokesman for the Police Department said that officer training in the use of the devices addresses intensity of sound, duration and distance.

?On December 4th all of these factors were controlled at levels that are not considered dangerous or harmful,? the spokesman said, adding that the device had only been used to advise people of illegal conduct.

The device was created partly as a response to a terrorist attack on a Navy destroyer, the Cole, off the coast of Yemen in 2000. It can produce a ?piercing sound? that ?can cause damage to someone?s hearing and may be painful,? according to a briefing written in 2010 by the Police Department?s Disorder Control Unit, which the lawyers said was obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

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