Crowd Control Devices

Crowd control devices are tools and non-lethal weapons that are used by the police and other authorities when crowds riot or civilian unrest occurs. In many cases, they can help resolve a situation peacefully. Police and military also use crowd control devices to deescalate hostile situations. Crowd control devices can be effective technologies when compared to their more deadly alternatives. While some activists have condemned the use of crowd control devices, they can still be a great way to calm a situation without the use of force, which might turn deadly. 

The bad reputation of crowd control devices seems to stem from the very beginning. Police often used rods and batons that we sometimes associate with violence. When used in moderation, though, they present an excellent way to keep offenders under control. Recently, the change in technology has brought a big leap forward with crowd control devices. Some newer technologies are safer, more effective, and popular among law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Brief History of Crowd Control

Crowd control devices are a relatively new concept. Most of them developed in the 20th century as police introduced them as a means of minimizing violence and risk of injury or death. There is no doubt about their success, even though there are still cases of misuse. More recent technologies have significantly reduced the need for physical altercations while resulting deaths are at an all-time low.

At the very beginnings of crowd control devices, authorities most commonly used batons and police rods. Also, police officers used shields to create walls that would push the crowds away. Those crowd control tools are very reminiscent of the cold war era and the time of the iron curtain that was in place in Europe.

With time and technological advances came more subtle and effective ways to control a large crowd. The first improvement in safety for police officers was the kevlar vest, which minimized the risk of injury to the officers while offering better maneuverability. The use of explosives such as tear gas and flashbangs also became commonplace. Unfortunately, these types of devices increased the chances of injury to the officers and people within the crowds.

Nowadays, some more subtle ways of controlling crowds are in use. While authorities still resort to the good old batons and police sticks, others opt for a more gentle form of persuasion. Crowd control devices today can vary significantly; there are crowd control devices that impair rioters’ senses like hearing, sight, and some, even the smell. The fact is that crowd control devices are getting safer and more subtle while becoming increasingly useful.

Types of Crowd Control Devices

Batons and shields

The first and the most commonly used variety of crowd control devices are police batons and shields. These were once the primary choice by police officers and were meant for use as protection. However, these types of devices are sometimes regarded as outdated. The truth is that they are still beneficial for police forces all around the world. Batons can help subdue individuals that are a danger to themselves and others. Sadly, they sometimes become subject abuse due to their misuse. 

Grenades and smoke bombs

The next type of control devices are grenades and other gadgets that release various gases or relatively safe chemicals that can immobilize a rioter in many ways. Smoke grenades, flashbangs, tear gas canisters, pepper spray, and other similar gases or chemicals are used by law enforcement to disperse the crowds of rioters. Flashbangs are indeed used in some very severe cases, while the use of tear gas and pepper sprays are forbidden in many cities around the world.

Tasers and stun guns

Tasers have become a modern alternative and useful tool for controlling individuals that are a danger to society. These devices can completely immobilize a person by sending a high voltage of electricity into a person’s body. Tasers, although illegal in some areas, are used by many as a form of personal protection. They are a great non-lethal alternative to firearms for both law enforcement and citizens. An interesting fact is that the taser is also very popular for use in the wild against vicious animals like bears or wolves.

Then we have a type of crowd control device that is arguably the widest and also the most exciting and new or unknown to some people. These are directional crowd control devices that impair a person in one or more ways. Tools like these emit a beam of energy of some sort to immobilize a particular area, but the area of effect can vary from device to device. We will take a closer look at some of them later.

Most Interesting Crowd Control Devices

Some interesting crowd control devices are perhaps not as well-know. In addition to the usual methods, like police batons, smoke grenades, pepper spray, flashbangs, and other gadgets, some are in the early stages of development. A few have shown promising results.


The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is an acoustic type of crowd control device. Primarily designed for message transmission over longer distances and for military use, LRADs emit loud sounds in a directed beam. These sounds are several times louder than those that come from ordinary speakers and are useful for many purposes. They gained popularity in 2004 when they were used in the New York City republican protests. If you are interested in learning how an LRAD works, take a look at this article on

The LRAD is playing an essential role in various riots or demonstrations. They are very efficient at emitting very annoying and uncomfortable sounds that can drive people away from a particular area. At lower noise levels, they can be used as public address systems in order to send messages over long distances. 

LRAD is, in its essence, a large directional speaker in a military spec, horn speaker enclosure. Depending on the size, an LRAD can weigh anywhere from 15 pounds (6.8 kg) to 320 pounds (145 kg). The speaker can be attached to the top of a vehicle or boat. There are also smaller, less powerful units that can be carried by an individual. The speaker can emit sounds in a 30 to 60-degree directional beam.


The Active Denial System (ADS) is a fascinating concept that is still relatively unknown. Active Denial System is a directed crowd control device that emits uncomfortable microwave beams at frequencies in the 95 GHz range. The microwaves come from a dish-like device that sits on top of a vehicle. An operator directs these beams with the use of a camera that is conveniently mounted to the dish.

The waves coming from the reflector can be directed into a crowd or a person to make them leave the area. This device has also been described by many as a heat ray gun. But it is not harmful to those exposed if used in moderation. There are some controversy and concerns because long term exposure to the microwaves can cause severe tissue damage to a person’s skin. The effects of these devices are described as a burning sensation that makes the person feel like they are on fire.

As you can imagine, standing in the ray beam of this device is unbearable, especially for extended periods of time. The ADS does not have severe short-term effects, as it only affects the first skin layer. If a person is exposed to the device for longer, then there can be long-term implications similar to skin burns. 

The Lazer Dazzler

Laser weapons use high-intensity beams of light to affect a person’s eyesight and disorient them. While they were initially designed for use during military conflicts, they can be useful in riots to immobilize the more active and potentially dangerous offenders. These lasers can be powerful enough to cause temporary blindness. These laser beams, when directed to a person’s eyes, can also create acute nausea, disorientation, and confusion. The effect has been described as staring at the sun through a pair of binoculars. 

These sorts of weapons do not have long-term effects, but they can cause temporary blindness along with some minor tissue damage. If mistakenly used on an individual for extended periods, they can have severe visual consequences. They can cause complete blindness or severe bleeding from the eyes. There have been disputes over the safety of laser weapons, but they continue to be used by law enforcement personnel worldwide. 

Smelling Gases

With all these lasers, directed weapons, and various sophisticated devices to disperse rioters, smelling gases can seem like a bizarre, outdated choice. They are still in use by some police forces around the world. The Israeli Police Force, as an example, used smelling gases in 2008 during riots. These gases are chemical compounds that produce of smell of rotten eggs and feces. They are an effective way to disperse a crowd quickly and safely. 

Water Canons

Water cannons have been used for decades as a means of controlling crowds. Water is one of the more primitive but popular ways to manage larger crowds of protesters. Unfortunately, the use of water on these groups also brings back memories of the protests by peaceful minorities during the sixties. While water canons aren’t always the best choice, they are still an effective tool when used in the right ways.

In some cases, dyes of various colors are added to the water stream, making the color hard to wash away for a few days. The idea is that it will make the protesters regret their decision to cause an uproar. 

Taser Shotgun Shells

Shotgun shells with high voltage electrodes are a new concept developed by Taser International. While the police officers often use non-lethal rubber shells during riots, the taser shotgun takes this concept to another level. 

The Taser XREP R shotgun shell uses a similar concept to the handheld version known as the Taser X2 but encases all the high voltage electronics into a projectile that fires from a standard 12 gauge shotgun. The biggest drawback to this device is that it is only effective at point-blank range. The XREP shells (eXtended Range Electronic Projectile) look similar to regular shotgun rounds only smaller and far less lethal. When they hit the target, they can cause electric shock and can hinder the recipient and drop them to the ground instantly.

While it is not the most effective device for controlling crowds, it has been used by law enforcement on a limited basis. Overall, the concept and technology are quite impressive, but more research and testing is needed before this device will become part of the arsenal of crowd control devices.

Crowd Control Devices are Improving 

While non-lethal crowd control devices do have their critics, they are an important tool used by law enforcement and military organizations worldwide. The can reduce the chance of injury or death in situations where people merely may be acting over-emotional. It is far too often that things get out of hand in these situations, and the use of deadly force sometimes ensues. 

There has been a lot of discussion about lethality or non-lethality of some crowd control devices. While some misinformed individuals have branded these devices as inhumane and inappropriate, the alternative choices are much more dangerous. 

The surge of technology in the field of non-lethal weapons can improve our lives in many ways, including by effectively helping keep the peace. No matter what your opinion is about this type of crowd control, we are sure to be seeing many new devices in the future. Maybe you will be the next inventor to create something interesting that can be a benefit to our society.