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Riot control employs a variety of equipment resources and approaches by police, military or other authorised security service personnel aimed at the control, dispersal or arrest of those involved in protests and rioting.

Security agencies employ a variety of both personal and unit-level equipment to prosecute their tasks effectively. The equipment and tools used may range from water cannon from companies such as Rosenbauer, temporary/mobile surveillance installations from vendors such as Viseum, riot-control agents such as gas irritants/lacrimators/tear gas, to incapacitate and disorient rioters making control and/or arrest easier.

Water cannon often sees the use of dyed water so that protesters can be identified after the event. Helmets, batons, shields, body armour and non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, teargas launchers, which have been used in Hong Kong in recent weeks, also make up the inventory of riot control equipment typically used around the world. Beanbag rounds were first introduced in the US and while termed a ‘less lethal/non-lethal’ option, fatalities have occurred in their use; when employed properly and not fired at certain areas of the anatomy, such rounds are effective in non-lethally incapacitating protesters.

However, few riots allow for level heads at all times by either side and serious injury is often inevitable using such equipment for protracted engagements with rioters. At a time when the riots in Hong Kong show little signs of abating, there now seems to be a new and curious non-lethal anti-riot weapon that may be set to enter the fray. A recent report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said that China has developed a world first in the form of a portable sonic gun for the control of rioters.

The report said that the new device/gun uses focused/directed waves of low-frequency sound to produce extremely uncomfortable biological effects, including vibrations in the brain, ears, eyes, stomach, liver and other internal organs resulting in annoyance, dizziness, fatigue, severe headaches and potentially heart palpitations. The sonic wave is apparently generated by an inert gas heated inside the gun, which results in the gas particles vibrating in such a manner that they produce a deep, low-frequency sound. The SCMP reported that the sonic gun prototype had now passed field and third-party tests in mainland China to evaluate the body effects of the system; the weapon has been jointly developed by law enforcement agencies and the army. Whether the new sonic gun will be used on the streets of Hong Kong has yet to be seen.

Riot Control Surveillance

Apart for the personal equipment used by officers on the ground, authorities involved in riot control will be heavily in need of effective intelligence. They will need information about the make-up of the crowds they face, so that they can determine, for instance, if there are key players who should be targeted by snatch squads for arrest, or the direction from which crowds are encroaching onto, perhaps, unsuspecting officers. Officers on the ground need eyes all around them. In such situations, CCTV cameras can be critical, although a riot-control CCTV camera that looks in just one direction, while useful, will not provide the complete situational awareness officers need. This is where 360-degree systems like the Rapid Deployment Intelligent Mobile CCTV tower surveillance system from Viseum is effective. The trailer-based system is easily moved from one location to the next and can be fully operational within minutes to provide temporary and semi-permanent surveillance, ideally suited to fast-moving and fluid riot situations. Each mobile security camera trailer produces more high-quality video evidence than a minimum of 200 installed, standard high-resolution fixed cameras and is said by the company to perform at least as well as six of any other advanced Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) camera installations, and that includes without the need for any surveillance monitoring and network infrastructure.

Viseum’s Rapid Deployment Mobile CCTV delivers fast automated high-security situational awareness, automatically reporting incidents for rapid response as well as further investigation, with a single camera able to cover an area the size of four Olympic stadiums. The temporary deployment camera is self-powered for up to six months and will automatically detect, confirm and follow multiple targets or incidents within its 360-degree view, simultaneously providing high-quality imagery. The system has been used in riot-control scenarios in Malaysia where it was customised to meet the needs of the Kuala Lumpur Police; the Malaysian language was added to the Viseum CiVMS Video Management System, as well as a crowd-behaviour surveillance algorithm. The latter was customised to automatically send alerts and intelligence to the riot police tactical command and control as well as senior officers, thereby making it unnecessary to keep the CiVMS manned around the clock. In addition, the CiVMS video archiving system was customised to help the KL riot police to bookmark certain events, faces and people in the crowd during each operation.

Tim Guest is a freelance journalist, UK Correspondent for ESD and former officer in the UK Royal Artillery.