4 Sci-Fi Tropes That Are Coming True Because Of The Cops
At some point in human history, some unknown dreamer looked up at the sky and wished with all their might that life was more like a sci-fi movie. Buuuut the problem was that they did it while absentmindedly drawing pentagrams with a severed monkey's paw and taking a dump inside of an old lamp they found at that graveyard.
As a result, instead of teleporters and everybody dating their own Spock, police departments all over the US are slowly becoming indistinguishable from the most “I wrote this to buy drugs” novels in the Barnes and Noble sci-fi bargain bin. For example ...
Police Are Using Weaponized Sound To Disperse Crowds
For years, causing damage with sound was relegated to the realm of fantastical movies and shows like The Incredible Hulk or Firefly, plus that one emo song from Hungary that supposedly made all those people kill themselves. And, yes, this would've been a great opportunity to take the piss out of Nickelback but ... why would we? They've never done anything to us. So why all the hate?
Our own personal emotional revelations about Nickelback notwithstanding, we're going to go ahead and talk about how US cops are using "sound cannons" to make people feel like they've been punched in the gut on a Gilbert Gottfried-themed roller-coaster.
The LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) was developed by the military as a kind of "magnifying glass" version of a megaphone. The device can amplify and focus sound with amazingly precise directionality, so much so that LRADs have a viewfinder and crosshairs. Despite having a lot of potential as a next-level communication device, the LRAD was almost instantly used as a weapon. It always goes like this. All communication devices have long been used to hurt people, from bludgeoning someone to death with a speaker to breaking up with your S.O. by texting them "sry ¯\_(ツ)_/¯". Nowadays, outside the military, the LRAD is most often used as a crowd-control tool utilized by police departments all over the US.
It was probably used for the first time in 2004 against the protesters outside the Republican National Convention but eventually made appearances at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock demonstrations, and, of course the BLM protests. When used in "deterrent" tone, the LRAD hits people with a "beam" of sound reminiscent of God's car alarm, clocking in at around 137 dB. That's about as loud as standing on an aircraft carrier deck. Also, weirdly, not that far from the noise pigs can make, which makes sense as they basically have superpowers. However, the closer you are to the device and the more focused the beam is (depending on the model), it can feel much louder than that. What happens when you get sound-blasted with this sonic shotgun? All sorts of things, and none of them pleasant.
Besides tinnitus, people have also reported bleeding from their ears, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, and -- wait this can't be right -- hearing loss? (Are they sure?) Anyway, the good news is that the NYPD has agreed to "limit" using the LRAD after being sued just a bunch of times by people who've developed long-lasting dizziness and migraines as a result of having their earballs assaulted by a freaking Black Bolt machine. Even so, the tool has proven incredibly effective, so it will probably only stop being used once the military perfects a real-life version of that sound-paralysis device from Iron Man.
The NYPD Is Using Robot Dogs
Welp. We did it. We found the one dog that's definitely not going to Heaven, and the only dog in history to be rated
Developed by Boston Dynamics, the "Digidog" is a stupid, stupid, stupid name. It's also a successor to the same company's BigDog robot that directly influenced one of the most disturbing episodes of Black Mirror, and that's saying something as the series started with the British PM porking a pig. In the episode "Metalhead," AI robotic dogs lead to the downfall of humanity as they systematically wipe out the human race. So far, the Digidog is only equipped with cameras and sensors that allow it to collect "limitless data" but, nope, we started this sentence with the full intention of putting you at ease but failed so hard.
The Digidog has actually been in operation for close to eight months now, with the NYPD dispatching it to crime scenes and hostage negotiations to collect intel. But that's all just a side effect. Though not officially, it's clear that the primary use of the robot is to weird people out. Because even if you've never seen Black Mirror, this thing is just super FreakY with a capital F and Y for “F*** You to whoever designed this.”
If you see the police with a robot dog like this by their side, you'll naturally start wondering what else do they have at their disposal? Disintegrators? Boot-shaped ball-seeking missiles? Even smaller robots that can crawl up your urethra and deploy spikes? The Digidog is, in essence, a weapon of fear. And the worst news is that the robot can be easily weaponized with a knife and some duct tape.
Actually, the worst news is that the robot costs a staggering $74,000 per unit. Even if you think that robot dogs are a great idea (we mean, if they make them realistic-looking, we'd be talking about immortal puppies), you have to acknowledge that this is an obscene amount of money to spend on sci-fi intimidation tools in a time of rampant income inequality. It's almost like sci-fi cop tropes are a zero-sum game. You make one a reality, like robot dogs, and you instantly make another so farfetched that no sane person would ever dream it up again, like the idea of police departments being underfunded.
Anyway, the continued use of robot dogs is apparently under review, and once it concludes that the NYPD has never done anything wrong, ever, it will briefly go down in history as the time we could have stopped the robowerewolfpocalypse but didn't.
Law Enforcement REALLY Wants To Use Heat Rays
Back in the ‘90s, the military developed the ADS (Active Denial System) which produces a focused beam of extremely high-frequency "millimeter waves" in the 95 gigahertz frequency that can slightly penetrate the skin of a target and make you feel like you're being cooked alive. This is despite the invisible rays only being able to reach "a skin depth of about 1/64 of an inch," which means that with a little tweaking, we can probably get that number to 1/69. Unfortunately, it wouldn't really make it any less painful but it's the only piece of good news we could find for this entry, other than the ADS never having been deployed on US soil. But man, are some people working on fixing that!
Right before the 2018 midterm elections, U.S. border officials actually considered using the heat ray against migrants at the southern border. Then secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen was reportedly so disturbed by the mere suggestion, she ordered the issue to "never be brought up again in her presence."
High-ranking military police officers have also asked the National Guard during the height of the George Floyd protests if they had an ADS that they could use to give people even more reasons to protest. The request was reportedly made "as a matter of due diligence and prudent military planning" but suspiciously didn't also include inquiries about borrowing a "flatulence bomb" (which, fun fact, was almost a real thing that existed) so take that reasoning with a grain of salt.
In the end, the main reason why the ADS wasn't deployed back in 2020 is because the National Guard doesn't have access to it. It's not entirely sure who has it. Two prototype systems are apparently out there somewhere, but that's about all we know. This probably marks the first time in history when law enforcement not knowing the exact location of a powerful sci-fi weapon is a good thing. But they'll probably keep asking for it because, over the years, the police have gotten really used to getting their hands on military gear, which is part of a larger problem, namely …
Police Are Being Militarized To RoboCop Levels In The US
US cops seem to really want to be soldiers. The problem is that they want to also want to be soldiers without going through the proper procedures like boot camp or being lied to by a recruiter in a mall food court.
Since 1998, police departments all over the US have been cosplaying as the military using surplus Army/Marine gear worth billions of dollars that they received through the government's 1033 Program. It's a system that basically imagines that all of the US weapons of war and destruction are sentient like in Toy Story, so once they're no longer needed by soldiers, they re-home them to cops. (You know, to not hurt their feelings.)
That's how people who spend the majority of their time not dealing with violent crimes end up owning high-precision sniper rifles, armored vehicles, thermal imagining, and pretty much everything else that would give a boner to people with an almost-impressive talent for misunderstanding the point of The Punisher.
Most of this stuff usually goes to SWAT teams, which you could argue need them to deal with armed people barricading themselves in hard-to-access locations or taking hostages. Fair enough. But according to one study of SWAT deployments in Maryland (the only state that keeps extensive records on their use of SWAT teams, which is another problem entirely) found that only 5% of their job involves dealing with armed suspects. The rest of the time, they do stuff like execute searches or deal with arrest warrants, which you 100% don't need tactical gear for, unless you're also a graduate of one of the infamous Killology courses, which is yet another police problem entirely. But hey, let's stay focused.
The 1033 Program really took off after 9/11 but only became national news around 2014 during the protests over the police killing of Michael Brown. And it's not a coincidence that this incident mobilized the soldier-cosplayers. The aforementioned Maryland study found that militarized police are much more likely to be deployed in black neighborhoods. To quote: "Every 10 percent increase in the number of African-Americans living in an area corresponded with a 10 percent increase in SWAT deployments per 100,000 residents." And all that cosplaying as characters from Judge Dredd has no real effect on violent crime whatsoever. All it does do is continuously erode public trust in policing.
And despite disproportionately targeting people of color, some cops still need all that aggression to go somewhere. According to plenty of research, the extent of abuse within police families is vastly underreported, with certain studies citing "at least 40 percent of police officer families [experiencing] domestic violence." And as there's no joke that can possibly follow that, this article is over.