Sound grenade device sets out to make campuses safer

Sarah Shadburne
Arts & Features
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The Sound Grenade by ROBOCOPP has been distributed on campuses across the country and abroad, and Asheville could be next.
“We receive reports on a regular basis from students who have used the device in mugging situations,” said Jill Turner, PR director for ROBOCOPP. “And they tell us, ‘This device saved my life.’”

The small size makes it accessible for keychains and belt loops. Photos provided by ROBOCOPP.

The ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade is a miniature personal alarm system that emits a 120 decibel alarm signal when deployed. Campuses across the country teamed up with the company to give them out in mass numbers to incoming freshman classes.
“The most recent and outstanding report was from a UC Berkeley student who prevented a mugging at a train station,” Turner said. “She was walking to her car late at night from the station and two men approached and asked for her money and claimed they had a gun. She pulled her alarm immediately and she said they just ran away and she emailed us at 11 p.m. absolutely thrilled.”
Their concept for a sound grenade initially formed in 2010 when the CEO of the company began researching effective ways to deter crime. Though the idea of using loud alarms is not particularly new, Turner said the Sound Grenade prioritizes accessibility for users.
“Sound is invisible but it touches everyone,” Turner said. “Humans naturally are very averse to loud sound. You’re not going to sit down and enjoy your morning cup of coffee by a construction site. The whole point is to prevent an attack rather than to engage in one.”
A study on criminal deterrence by Maurice Cusson of the School of Criminology reported 68 percent of criminals will flee the scene of the crime empty-handed the moment an alarm sounds.
Turner said sound becomes an ideal deterrent because most people who carry small weapons either hurt themselves or arm their attackers in dangerous situations.
“Whether you’re absolutely positive someone intends to harm you, or whether you’re not sure, you can alert someone without confronting the person that feels threatening,” Turner said.
In the past, UNC Asheville passed out whistles to students, said Chief of Police Eric Boyce. Boyce now said he thinks there could be potential for the university to seriously look into a partnership with ROBOCOPP.
“We want to provide our students with cutting edge, appropriate safety devices,” Boyce said. “I definitely see that as something we would be willing to have a conversation with the developers about providing it to potentially all students.”
Accounting for transfers, giving the device to every freshman would theoretically result in the total campus population having a device within six years, Boyce said. If used appropriately, it could make more students intervene.
“The only area that I would be concerned with is those high decibels. It could deafen a potential attacker but it could also deafen you,” Boyce said. “My only caution with that is making sure you have some sort of safety precautions in place carrying a device like that.”
Boyce also has concerns about students getting too used to hearing a siren sound like that and becoming desensitized.
“If overused, it could be kind of like a car alarm now,” Boyce said. “When those alarms first got installed on cars people were like, ‘Oh! That’s a car alarm!’ and now people are like ‘Oh. That’s a car alarm.’”
Student Body Vice President Lauren Bulla worries about what the installation of a device like the Sound Grenade would mean in terms of safety on a campus our size.
“It’s really unfortunate that there’s even a question of our safety so much that there needs to be something instituted,” Bulla said. “On a campus this small, why is it that we’re still needing to even consider something like this?”
Bulla said she believes there is a general feeling of safety on the UNCA campus, but she still participates in groups that raise awareness of safety resources available to students.
“Even if one student feels unsafe, that should be an issue that the university should take up,” Bulla said. “We all want to live in a community where we feel comfortable and safe, so it also comes down to students holding each other accountable.”
Bulla notes she and many of the women she knows carry pepper spray or other personal safety devices on their person, but she does think Sound Grenade technology could be useful.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be worthwhile if it’s just an added precaution,” Bulla said.