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.
Announced at this year's Memorial Day parade in New York, Laser Energetic's Dazer Lasers discharge a modulating green beam meant to temporarily impair a threat's vision, equilibrium, awareness and causes nausea. When hit in the eyes, the effects take place immediately — even penetrating the eyelid if the threat closes his eyes, yet another reaction to aid in controlling the suspect. While the reactions are different, like Silent Guardian, "being dazed" begins to disappear once removed from the beam. Vision impairment and imbalance can last up to 30 seconds while the nausea may last longer.
One key feature of the Dazer Laser is that it remains eye-safe at all ranges meeting the American National Standard Institute standard (Z136.1-2000) for the safe use of lasers. The beam consists of a visible green laser light, which is difficult to see in daylight.
The Dazer Laser Defender looks much like the existing pistol model and less like a "blaster rifle" found hanging on a sci-fi adventurer's hip. Weighing less than 1.5 pounds and requiring four CR-123A 3V lithium batteries, the Defender stands at about 6.1 inches high and 6.3 inches long. Its maximum beam range of 2,400 meters is roughly less than 1.5 miles with the longest-range model.
The Defender's sibling, the Guardian, resembles more of a rear- and front-button flashlight or short baton than a pistol. At 6.6 inches long, the Guardian weighs one pound with its two CR-123A, 3V lithium batteries. Designed for close encounters, this Dazer Laser's maximum range peaks at about 300 meters. Alternative Guardian models offer shorter effective ranges.
A laser itself begins much like the buckshot from a shotgun, where the energy is concentrated in a narrow beam expanding outward in a cone-like shape. Like the shotgun, at a close range the blast is contained to a small space yet overwhelmingly powerful; at long range the blast spreads apart, reducing the effectiveness as the distance increases. However, in a laser, users can manipulate its effective distance with variable range and focus optics.
There are two ways this laser technology can be utilized: a fixed or variable range and focus device. The fixed range has a single maximum distance; threats past this do not receive the full effect of the weapon, while closer targets receive too high a power density, rendering the beam less effective and possibly unsafe.
Variable range technology allows the user to adapt the laser's range and diameter. For example, the Dazer Laser Guardian long-range model can emit a one meter beam diameter at 10, 25, 50, 100 and 300 meters.
However, interference can hinder effectiveness. Laser Energetics Founder and CEO Robert Battis compares this to a vehicle's headlight. "If there is anything in the air such as rain, fog or snow, the beam will be scattered and hence the effects can be diminished.
"This is called 'light diffusion.' If you diffuse the light you're going to knock down its power and its range — it still works but it just won't work as long range and as effectively," he explains.
Laser Energetics developed another feature into its Dazer Laser product line: A countdown clock shuts the device down once a set time expires. An officer would begin his patrol by programming the Dazer's security code, turning the tool on. The weapon then remains on until the internal timer reaches zero — turning the Dazer automatically off. Programming would repeat each time the unit is required to be turned on. While on, the Dazer requires the user to press the trigger or button to activate.
"We really feel what we have done here is take a technology that had promise and we have made its safe operation … a reality," says Battis.
The attempts in creating viable non-lethal technologies have developed their own diverted paths away from science fiction and spy-toys. Yet, the subconscious images remain. Science fiction began using the technology as a tool to create its futuristic worlds — chosen only to create the seemingly unobtainable. ADS, Raytheon and now Laser Energetics have taken this once-concept and have put it into your hands.
Editors note: Further information on ADS can be found at The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program Web site at https://www.jnlwp.com.