(MintPress) –Police and coastguard personnel may soon be implementing a military-style laser device that temporarily blinds people as a way to control crowds and send warnings. The continued militarized presence in the United States police force has stoked fears, particularly with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, of a martial law attitude growing within the U.S.
Legislation and the evolution of weaponry have changed domestic law enforcement in America, but we have not seen the military directly carry out police proceedings. The police, however, have adopted several military tactics with the recent use of unmanned drones and devices originally designed for use in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In January, a laser dazzler was unveiled for domestic police use and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. NewScientist says the dazzlers are non-lethal and only emanate a beam of light that is too bright to look at. The device is hailed as a safer alternative to weaponry that has been responsible for serious injury and even death, such as Tasers, rubber bullets and the long-range acoustic device.
However, safety concerns have surfaced as reports say the beam of light can cause permanent eye damage and has the potential to cause blindness. An Army researcher recalled an instance where a soldier fumbled the dazzler, which shined the light into a nearby rearview mirror and resulted in a burned retina.
Military-style tactics within the police force have taken root since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Counter-terrorism efforts abroad have sprawled to include counter-terrorism efforts domestically.
In September 2006, the U.S. issued the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, an overview of the practices and goals that were to be implemented and accomplished to curb terroristic efforts. The document details the ideological shift of combating attacks against the U.S.
“The paradigm for combating terrorism now involves the application of all elements of our national power and influence. Not only do we employ military power, we use diplomatic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement activities to protect the Homeland and extend our defenses, disrupt terrorist operations, and deprive our enemies of what they need to operate and survive. We have broken old orthodoxies that once confined our counterterrorism efforts primarily to the criminal justice domain.”
The recent use of unmanned military drones in the U.S. could certainly be considered unorthodox. Police officials are able to use the drones to track movements of suspects and cover widespread areas while watching a feed of the action from a tablet.
Most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains legislation that would allow the United States to indefinitely detain persons they suspect of terrorism-related activities, came under scrutiny from Congress representatives.
“These provisions raise serious questions as to who we are as a society and what our Constitution seeks to protect,” Sen. Udall said. “Section 1031 essentially repeals the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 by authorizing the U.S. military to perform law enforcement functions on American soil.”
And it’s not as though police forces are deciding to militarize themselves on their own. Since 2002, the Pentagon has handed out nearly $34 billion to state and local law enforcement agencies to offer them the means to afford new equipment.
In Fargo, ND, where there has not been an international terrorism prosecution in the past decade and where the average number of homicides per year since 2005 is less than two, authorities have made use of the federal funding. The city purchased a $265,000 armored truck with a revolving turret, and every squad car is now equipped with a military-style assault rifle.
“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Fargo Police Lt. Ross Renner told The Daily Beast. “We don’t have everyday threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”
Long-Range Acoustic Device
Across the United States, police units and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are already making use of a variety of military-style weapons to combat crime and sometimes peaceful protests.
In 2009, a long-range acoustic device (LRAD), or “sound cannon,” was used to break up a protest of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. LRAD emits high-frequency tones that can induce pain. Prior to being used on domestic grounds, the device was used against Somali pirates and insurgents in Iraq.
Critics say that while the device is said to be non-lethal when used on humans, if it is triggered in close enough proximity to someone who is not wearing ear protection, it could trigger an aneurysm and potentially be fatal. Other effects of the usage of the device include burst eardrums and inner-ear bleeding.
Last summer, the Albuquerque Police Department added shotgun-style Taser projectors to its arsenal, allowing them to hit targets up to 100 feet away. Taser says the technology is geared toward a less-lethal platform and cites a study done by Wake Forest, saying the technology in the gun resulted in 99.75 percent of those subjected to it escaped without significant injuries.
Taser has been the subject of multiple studies after incidents of fatalities relating to its products. Amnesty International compiled a report in 2008 that revealed 351 Taser-related deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2008.
Assault Intervention System (AIS)
Originally built for use in Afghanistan but later recalled for technical difficulties, the ADS has been tweaked and implemented by the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department at the Pitchess Detention Center’s North County Correctional Facility. The AIS gives off a focused, invisible beam of waves that cause a severe burning sensation in the skin. The device is said to be non-lethal and only penetrates 1/64th of an inch into the skin.
German physicist Jurgen Altmann said in a 2008 report that the AIS “provides the technical possibility to produce burns of second and third degree. Because the beam of diameter 2 m and above is wider than human size, such burns would occur over considerable parts of the body, up to 50% of its surface. Second- and third-degree burns covering more than 20% of the body surface are potentially life-threatening – due to toxic tissue-decay products and increased sensitivity to infection.”