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Buffalo police defend purchase of acoustic device to break up unruly crowds

Danielle Johnson would like to do more research on a new acoustical device that Buffalo police say will help break up large, disorderly crowds.

And Franchelle Hart-Parker wants to make sure the device is not used by police during peaceful protests.

"For me, that's a red flag seeing that most of the people in the chambers today participate on some level of civic engagement on a regular basis. So just ensuring that it's used for its intents and purposes and not on peaceful protesters would be my priority," said Hart-Parker, executive director of Open Buffalo.

Hart-Parker and Johnson, chairperson for Open Buffalo's Justice and Opportunity Coalition, were among approximately 50 people – many of them community activists – who attended Tuesday's Police Oversight Committee meeting in the Common Council chambers in City Hall.

One of the main topics was the Long Range Acoustical Device, a non-lethal tool that transmits sound to irritate eardrums and break up riots and unruly crowds from a distance.

"They can't tolerate the sound, so they move," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, adding that the instrument will be used for "mass demonstrations that are out of control."

In some cases, the device also can be used by SWAT teams in a situation involving a barricaded suspect, he added.

The department has already purchased one for about $21,000  –  about $30,000 when power packs, tripods and other accessories are included –  and assigned it to commanders of the department's emergency response team, Derenda said.

"Many cities are using it and quite effectively," Derenda said. "It's a last-case resort. We have not had a protest go out of control, and hopefully we never do."

Benjamin Nelson, an attorney speaking on behalf of the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was not in favor of Buffalo using the device. He said it can emit a continuous sound at levels of 149 decibels, which is higher than some safety standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"On an OSHA chart, 140 decibels is the threshold of pain. In other words, nobody can be subjected to that in the workplace or they're just going to be injured," Nelson said.

He also quoted from a lawsuit filed by a group of peaceful protesters in New York City who were subjected to the same device during a protest in late 2014.

"They have medical documentation they're prepared to use in this lawsuit that they suffered tinnitus and migraines. Those are directly hearing-related but it extends to vertigo and other maybe less permanent types of injuries," Nelson said.

Tuesday's discussion on the Long Range Acoustical Device was for informational purposes only, "so the public can be informed," said Committee Chairman David A. Rivera, who represents the Niagara District on the Council.

Derenda will provide the committee with a written policy on the situations that would justify use of the device.

"We always look at ways to do things better... I believe the device works very well. We don't feel tasers are right for our police department," Derenda said.

Below: Pittsburgh police use the Long Range Acoustic Device during protests of the G20 summit.

Rivera also announced that the committee will meet at least three times each year, instead of two as currently scheduled. Meetings will be held in January, May and September, with additional meetings  held, if needed, Rivera said.

Also, the committee will establish a community advisory board of citizens  who will report to the Common Council and work with command staff of Buffalo police.

"Working together we can come up with some solutions to the problems we may have," Rivera said.

The deaths of two men during separate interactions with police was not discussed during Tuesday's committee meeting. Jose Hernandez-Rossy, 26, was shot in Black Rock this past May by Buffalo Police Officer Justin Tedesco while involved in a struggle with Officer Joseph Acquino.

And last February, 20-year-old Wardel Davis died during a struggle as two police officers - Todd C. McAlister and Nicholas J. Parisi - were arresting him on Hoyt Street on the city's West Side.

"In the custody deaths, we cannot speak on those cases right now. They are being investigated by the state Attorney General's Office," Derenda said.

The explanation did not stop a small group of demonstrators from Just Resisting from interrupting Rivera at the end of the meeting.

"Whose chambers? Our chambers," the group stood up and started chanting.

"We are Just Resisting, and we want McAlister tried for murder," the group continued. "We want Tedesco tried for murder... We want Acquino tried for murder."

The group members kept up the interruption for about a minute or two. When done, they were escorted out of Council Chambers by a security guard on hand for the meeting.


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