When about 20,000 police officers were mobilised earlier this month to enforce the Internal Security Act in parts of Bangkok, they brought with them an array of shiny new crowd-control weaponry.
SET TO STUN: Riot police say the new tools at their disposal are needed to keep the peace.
And despite protesters labelling the 2m-tall bulletproof barriers, truck-mounted water cannon and sonic weapons "overkill", riot officers insist their rapidly-growing arsenal is necessary to maintain order on the streets.
Pol Lt Col Sarayudh Arunchai, a Crowd Control Police Inspector at the Metropolitan Police Bureau's Protection and Crowd Control Division, says the pride of the anti-riot force's armoury is the 25-million-baht state-of-the-art water cannon truck.
"We have one water cannon vehicle imported from South Korea," he said. "It is equipped with a high-pressure water cannon, which can be as effective in dispersing crowds as using tear gas.
"The cannon has a 65m range, and can fire 1,650 litres per minute."
He said the truck is also equipped with five tear gas launchers, each capable of firing seven canisters at a time, with a range of about 100m.
Combined with a mast camera system, bulletproof cabin, run-flat tyres and battering ram, Pol Lt Col Sarayudh said the truck is a formidable deterrent to any protester bent on violence.
But if that fails, the city's riot police have another card up their sleeve. Although it's never been "officially" used, crowd control officers possess several high-tech sonic weapons known as Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD).
As well as being mounted on top of the water cannon truck, several police cars come equipped with the latest in LRAD technology and can unleash waves of targeted pain-inducing sounds on unruly crowds.
"The model of LRAD we have [on the cannon truck] costs approximately 700,000 baht, but the ones attached to police cars are more effective and cost around 1.2 million baht," Pol Lt Col Sarayudh said.
"This weapon can focus in on a specific target. When we turn the device on a group, people staying out of range will not be affected at all.
"But for those within range, this weapon can be harmful to auditory nerves and can permanently destroy people's hearing."
While these expensive devices offer the advantage of intimidation, crowd control officers are more likely to deploy the trusty tear gas as a first choice.
Pol Lt Col Sarayudh said police are currently updating their tear gas and pepper spray stock with better quality products from the US.
"The ones we used in 2008 against the yellow shirts were from China and had expired. We had been storing them since 1993," he said. "There were several injuries during that protest, and some claimed our tear gas was the cause. But expired tear gas is only less effective and does not cause real harm to people.
"The reason we need to change it is because Chinese gas is of lower quality, and the canisters sound like a gun when they detonate, which can create panic."
But even tear gas is normally only used as a last resort. Pol Lt Col Sarayudh said there are several tools used by officers to prevent the need for any of these weapons to be deployed.
"The best way to control a mob is to prevent police and the mob from facing each other directly. To achieve this, we use concrete barrier blocks which weigh one tonne each and are around 1.6m high," he said. The barriers are normally craned in several days before a demonstration is expected and aim to prevent violence from breaking out.
"They are also bulletproof to keep our officers safe."
Wimol Thongrueangsuksai, a protester involved in the anti-government demonstration at Lumpini Park, said he always takes measures to defend himself from riot police weapons when crowds are mobilising.
"Hand towels, gas masks, goggles, and small bottles of water or saline solution are useful, while our security team members will usually carry a two-way radio, megaphone and whistle," he said.
"We really don't have any weapons but just carry some simple defences against tear gas."
Mr Wimol said police often overestimate the capabilities of protesters, saying multimillion-baht equipment is unnecessary.
"The police behave as if we are a well-equipped army," he said. "Their barriers are tall and bulletproof, yet we have nothing to harm them with. I think all these weapons are overkill."
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