It's inevitable, once someone mutters the term "lasers," images of space fighters, the infamous "Goldfinger" table scene and scientists adorned with bulky goggles and lab coats come to mind.
While the science fiction and the almost absurd spy concepts are cemented in our minds forever, they seem to have inspired those scientists to be creative in how technology can be utilized for a multitude of purposes.
Likewise, the term "less-lethal" stirs up particular thoughts and products: bean bags, rubber balls, chemicals, electricity, the over-exposed "Don't Tase me, bro" line, etc. The word itself almost offers an oxymoron. The technology is meant as a substitute to an officer drawing his gun — an obvious deadly force. Yet the less-lethal technology may, under certain circumstances, effect death.
From there product debates tend to veer toward the non-lethal conundrum — law enforcement's very own Golden Hind. Can a non-lethal weapon effectively control a violent subject or subjects? Maybe more importantly, can a non-lethal weapon system deliver the effect its inherent name implies and be completely not lethal?
Active denial systems (ADS) were designed to employ a laser beam emitted at a subject and cause an automatic uncontrollable reaction — one that ceases unwanted or unsafe behavior. In short, immediately stop a suspect from accomplishing his intentions.
ADS were developed for the military. A large disc was mounted onto either a Hummer or specialized vehicle, and directed a field of energy toward its human target — thus halting the suspect long enough for appropriate action to be taken. Appropriating this technology for law enforcement's use was unpractical. The concept needed to be lighter, smaller and safer — three ideas to help officers and the public stay safe and return home.
"We're interested in seeing if one would work in our dorms to where if the deputy sees inmates squaring off, he can zap [them] to get their attention and diffuse something before it sparks into a full riot disturbance," says Sgt. Brian Muller of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
Muller adds that a few years ago, retired Commander Charles Heal sparked LASD's interest in ADS. That interest brought them to the national defense contractor Raytheon Co.
The Arizona-based Raytheon developed its ADS Silent Guardian in 2006. According to the company, Silent Guardian Protection System "uses millimeter wave technology to repel individuals without causing injury … without the use of lethal force." The system sends a focused beam of millimeter wave energy penetrating into the target's skin. This produces "an intolerable heating sensation" ceasing when the victim leaves the beam.
Silent Guardian's range is greater than 250 meters allowing users 360 degrees of coverage controlled by an easy-to-use joystick with auto-tracking capabilities.
LASD confirms that this has an effective range. According to Muller, the department conducted a study to discern the throwing range of an average human, yet still do serious damage.
"Less than 3 percent of the people [100 recruits were used] can throw something heavy enough to seriously hurt you more than 180 feet," notes Muller.
While Silent Guardian's range far exceeds this and its security and defense applications are numerous, at more than 5 tons the system presents a Herculean task far beyond an officer's daily duty gear, one limitation difficult to overcome.
Laser Energetics Inc., a laser technology company from New Jersey, began its "Dazer Laser" program in 2006 to provide an eye-safe handheld non-lethal laser weapon for use with the gamut of law enforcement from Homeland Security to park services as well as all branches of the military. The company has created the Dazer Laser Light Fighting Technologies line consisting of two products: Defender and Guardian.