Charles “Sid” Heal, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s commander, is testing the “Active Denial System.” With one zap from what looks like a satellite dish on a tripod, says the Los Angeles Times, those within target range feel a burning sensation on their skin. Heal likes sees the device making rubber bullets or tear gas obsolete — giving police a less violent way to control crowds and combative suspects. For the last decade, Heal has dedicated himself to helping cops avoid deadly confrontations. As head of the sheriff’s Technology Exploration Unit, he has tested hundreds of high-tech law enforcement gizmos — some backed by huge corporations, others the brainchild of garage inventors.
The 32-year veteran of the department is not a scientist, but a bad review from him can doom or delay an invention; endorsements can have buyers lining up at the maker’s door. Some, like Tasers and pepper-spraying flashlights, are now a part of deputies’ everyday lives. His pursuit of improving policing through technology has made him a national figure in law enforcement circles. Guys without last names from the CIA seek his advice. Heal initially gave a thumbs down to the “TigerLight,” a cayenne pepper-spraying flashlight. “Guys in the field didn’t like ’em,” Heal said. “They carried them upside down and the spray leaked all over their pants.” The manufacturer made fixes; now the sheriff has 500 in service.