You are walking from Smith to your car on a cold winter’s night. Portland rain has covered the streets as the clouds overhead make visibility difficult. A figure comes walking toward you and aggressively reaches for your gym bag, which holds your wallet, car keys, and take-home midterm. In a split second you have a decision to make: How will you protect yourself?
More than one hundred students on Portland State’s campus are deciding against reaching for their mace, switchblade or raising their fists. Instead, they’re reaching for a small piece of plastic called the Sound Grenade—a keychain-like device that fits in the palm of your hand or a carabiner attached to your belt loop.
Once activated, the Sound Grenade releases a 120-decibel siren—which the company behind the device describes as a blast equivalent to that of an ambulance siren or having your ear up close to speakers at a rock concert—for up to 30 minutes.
Our news editors test the “Sound Grenade” in the middle of campus. Andy Ngo/PSU Vanguard
San Francisco-based company ROBOCOPP manufactures the Sound Grenade and noticed via customer shipping and email addresses that many purchases have come from the blocks that make up the Portland state of mind.
“When there’s an event that shakes a community, there’s a surge in purchases of the Sound Grenade,” said ROBOCOPP public relations director Jill Turner.
This may explain the surge in Sound Grenade popularity within the Portland metro area, specifically PSU’s campus. From the beginning of December 2016 to now, Vanguard’s weekly “Crime blotter” has documented approximately 75 incidents involving theft, violence, sexual harassment, trespassing or vandalism.
According to Turner, the Sound Grenade is buzzworthy as it provides a nonviolent and innovative way to prevent attacks on or off college campuses.
ROBOCOPP receives regular reviews from students and customers about how the device was instrumental in preventing potentially violent attacks. Just this week, Turner was contacted by an Oregon mother whose son had used the SG in self-defense while walking to his car at night.
The mother told Turner that her son had noticed a man persistently following him and crossing the street when he crossed the street. When her son used his Sound Grenade, the stranger took off running in the opposite direction. Campus Safety was then called and dealt with the situation.
The device was originally designed by ROBOCOPP CEO Sam Mansen for his sister who was a student at UC Berkeley. Now the device is used at over one hundred college campuses in the U.S.
And according to ROBOCOPP, campus security departments love this device. “It helps them do their job,” Turner said. “They can respond to an incident because they hear an alarm; it’s worth it for them. A lot of the time they are just patrolling.”
However, PSU’S Police Chief Phillip Zerzan, along with PSU Sgt. Robert McCleary, were not aware that students on PSU’s campus were using the Sound Grenade.
During an email correspondence, Zezarn said he could not speak to this specific product, but his office encourages everyone on campus to always have a plan for personal safety. “This includes being aware of your surroundings, traveling with companions, and having a way to communicate a need for assistance,” Zerzan said.
The Sound Grenade can be used to prevent crimes such as rape and theft. The device weighs less than an ounce, which makes for easy access, and is available in different designs and colors to yield a cool, sleek look.
“Fifty percent of our customers are male, and we really think it’s bizarre when companies only market their product to women,” Turner said. “Violent crime is not exclusive to one gender, and I find that crime prevention is often discussed in relation to women.”
“Big muscley men are mugged all the time,” Turner continued. “Both genders value a non-violent tool like this. [It’s] an affordable tool to prevent an attack.”
The Sound Grenade has been on the market since 2015, and ROBOCOPP claims to have had a 100 percent success rate.
For students interested in learning about other self-defense methods, please visit PSU’s Physical Education webpage for future course information.