Non-damaging laser gun could be used to control rioters

Police officers could use a new laser gun to temporarily blind rioters as a way of controlling disturbances without injuring people.

UK-based firm Photonic Security Systems is speaking to the Home Office about using the ’dazzler’ technology, which is similar to that already used by the US Army and is also being considered as a way to combat pirates.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said it had a commitment to providing the police with ‘less-lethal options’ and that dazzler technology had ‘merit’ but would require further assessment that may be followed by limited pilot trials.

The riots in England earlier this year, as well the 2010 protests against university fees, have reignited the debate over how much force the police should use to maintain order, with water cannons and rubber bullets coming under consideration.

The rifle-like SMU 100 weapon costs £25,000 and can temporarily impair people’s vision by producing a wall of light up to 4m wide from as far away as 500m, using an infrared scope to identify targets.

‘It’s non-lethal, non-damaging but effective in terms of intimidating people,’ Photonic’s managing director, Paul Kerr, told The Engineer. ‘If you can’t see something then you can’t attack it. This is like putting something behind the sun.’

Kerr didn’t want to reveal the technology behind the weapon but said that one of the challenges of its two-year development was getting the casing right to protect it from harsh environments, for example, to enable its use at sea against pirates — a primary market.

The government spokesperson said that the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) would have to assess such a weapon’s medical and training implications, as well as how well it met requirements.

A strategic board review and approval by the home secretary would also be needed before the laser could be deployed by the police.

Kerr said that the technology was flexible enough to meet the specific needs of different customers. ‘A lot of it can be adjusted by software. It’s a case of finding out what [the Home Office] would want.’