Friday, June 6, 2008

Non-Lethal Force

The June 2 issue of The New Yorker has a fascinating profile of Charles Heal, a long-time expert on the development of "non-lethal weapons." The article first discusses various types of weapons designed to stop a person or group of persons without puncturing them: bean-bag guns, dogs, irritants like tear gas, malodorants, obscurants that interfere with sight (such as smoke), Tasers, flashbangs, soporifics, tanglefoam. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department tried TigerLights, a combination of flashlight and pepper spray. The pros and cons of all these devices (including the Active Denial System made for the military, which was the subject of a 60 Minutes interview just last Sunday) are discussed.

The more interesting part of the article, however, comes when the author accompanies Heal on visits to people who have taken out patents on inventions they hope will be the next big thing in crime fighting, such as the Carpoon. This does exactly what you think: harpoons a car in high-speed chases. Heal points out that it's not feasible because it will cause both collateral accidents and lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits. One criterion for whether law enforcement agencies will invest in a new weapon is whether it will reduce law suits from the old ones. They are not interested in those that will create yet more lawsuits.

What's really needed for vehicular pursuits, Heal said, is "a directed-energy device that uses a signal from our car to interrupt the other car's ability to supply fuel or ignition. It may make the fuel mixture too rich or too thin, and if you can change it even briefly, the car will die. That's the Holy Grail. Whoever invents that will be rich from the day he does,"

Any takers?


Steven Francis Murphy said...

All vehicles presently coming off the assembly lines have a computer of some sort onboard. Have had them since the 1980s. I suggest that probably the best way to disable a vehicle would be to put a law enforcement backdoor into the car's computer. The officer pushes a button on the pursuit vehicle and the computer simply shuts the engine off.

That having been said, I personally believe that part of the problem is the legal system. We desperately need a "Natural Selection" clause in the common law. An example might be, "You get what you deserve if you attempt to flee an officer in a police cruiser."

The backdoor could probably be tampered with by hardened criminals but most folks, especially your run of the mill car thief, aren't going to go to that sort of trouble.

S. F. Murphy

g d townshende said...

Off topic...

...but I was reading in this weekend's issue of the Wall Street Journal an article which discussed authors using videos, such as on YouTube, to try to boost the sales of their books.

There's a video about this here. Once the page loads, wait a moment for it to 'scroll' to the video on video trailers for books.

g d townshende said...

I just did a quick search, and here's a whole page of videos for Stephenie Meyer's science fiction novel The Host.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Any device that could stop a car might also stop a tank or a warplane. Sure hope we develop it first!

(Actually, in the Bad Old Days when NATO brains worked late to thwart the Grim Empire's ambitions, Electro-Magnetic Pulse was much discussed. Suppose the malodorous Russkis ignited monstrous H-bombs at the upper reach of the stratosphere? The EMP would kill computers right smartly. And all the West's high-end weapons are driven by silicon technology...

The newest ships and aircraft are "hardened" against EMP. (Don't ask me how. I am void of clues in this.)

But I think once one nuclear device is used, a bunch more are soon to follow. And then, all bets are off.

I'se an optomist, yez see!

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Spelling correction: optImist, I wyz tryin' to say! (rueful smiley, please, Mr. Conductor!)

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