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Pain Ray, Rejected by the Military, Ready to Blast L.A. Prisoners

Noah Schachtman

An officer with the LA County Sheriff's Department operates the Raytheon-designed 'pain ray' gun. (Photo courtesy of the LASD)

Inmates of the Pitchess Detention Center, watch your step. If you get out of line, you may get blasted with an invisible heat ray.

The jail’s energy weapon is a small-scale version of the Active Denial System, the experimental crowd control device that the U.S. military brought to Afghanistan — and then quickly shipped back home,
after questions mounted about the wisdom of blasting locals with a beam
that momentarily puts them in agony. The pain weapon seemed at odds
with the military’s efforts to appear more humane and measured in the
eyes of the Afghan populace.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department not only found those
concerns overblown; they used the military’s long-standing reluctance to
zap Afghans as fodder for the plan to zap Pitchess’ prisoners. “I
already had contacts at [Active Denial maker] Raytheon who were reeling
from the short-sided, self-serving cowardice of people who were more
interested in saving face than saving lives, and leveraged it right into
getting it into our jails,” former LASD Cmdr. Charles “Sid” Heal tells
Danger Room.

The LASD has long been a hotbed of advocates for exotic weaponry — everything from sonic blasters to spy drones. But the Active Denial System has long been of particular interest. Heal calls it the “Holy Grail of crowd control.” He’s been trying for years to get the technology deployed in Los Angeles.

The LASD unveiled the 7½-foot-tall
millimeter wave weapon late last week, partially as answer to the 257
inmate-on-inmate assaults at Pitchess so far this year, and the 19
additional assaults on deputies. Sheriff Lee Baca believes the modified
pain ray can break up these incidents before they get out of hand.
With a range of 80 to 100 feet, the heat beam can blast prisoners that a
Taser couldn’t hit. “This device will allow us to quickly intervene
without having to enter the area and without incapacitating or injuring
either combatant,” Baca says in a statement.

The National Institute of Justice — the research arm of the U.S.
Justice Department — is paying for the six-month trial at Pitchess, part
of a larger effort to test technologies that might cut down on inmate
violence. “If we try and fail we’ve sent a message that we care, because
even the effort becomes noble!” Heal e-mails. ”If we try and succeed
we’ve become heroes in that we accepted a risk the Department of Defense
refused — even after they spent $40 million of the taxpayers money and
even while they’re killing people, because [they] are unwilling to use

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