Police were justified in using 'flash-bang' device to search suspect's home, N.J. Supreme Court says
By The Associated Press - April 23, 2013

TRENTON — Police who raided a Monmouth County man's home in 2007 were justified in using a "flash-bang" device as a diversion before entering, the state Supreme Court ruled today.
The 6-1 decision overturned an appellate court ruling and reinstated the drug conviction of a Manalapan man who had claimed the search was unconstitutional.

According to court documents, police suspected John Rockford was selling drugs from his house after they'd conducted surveillance for several days. They obtained a warrant that required them to knock and identify themselves before entering the home.

On the day of the search, police used a flash-bang device, which emits intense light and makes a loud noise, as a diversion outside the house. They then knocked and announced their presence before entering the home. Rockford and another man were standing in the driveway when the device was detonated.

An appeals court ruled the use of the device violated the terms of the warrant and excluded the drugs found during the search. But the state Supreme Court in its ruling today called the execution of the warrant "objectively reasonable and, thus, constitutional."

"The Court declines to adopt a bright-line rule against the use of a flash-bang device to execute a knock-and-announce search warrant," the majority wrote. "The objective reasonableness of law enforcement's execution of a warrant that includes the use of a flash-bang device should be determined on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of the circumstances."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia likened the search, which involved 12 police officers in three teams, to "a military raid on a compound instead of a drug search in a suburban neighborhood." She argued the use of the flash-bang device was inconsistent with the type of search warrant issued.

Disquiet builds nationwide over police flash-bang use

Injury of Minneapolis woman during raid is one in string of mishaps with controversial grenades.
Long before a Minneapolis police "flash-bang" grenade burned Rickia Russell during a botched drug raid last year, the devices had sparked unintentional fires and caused injuries and deaths, even among officers trained to use them.
The $1 million settlement awarded last week to Russell by the Minneapolis City Council follows lawsuits and payouts for people injured or killed by the devices in California, Michigan, New York and other states.
The devices came into widespread use in the 1980s, and law enforcement agencies say they help save lives during drug raids and similar high-risk operations. But watchdog groups and defense attorneys say they're a menace.
"These things are dangerous," said Clay Conrad, a lawyer in Houston who has handled several cases involving flash-bang grenades. "If you were to toss one at a cop, you would be indicted for attempted murder."
Often used by SWAT teams to disorient suspects with deafening booms and bright lights, the flash-bangs, once activated, can burn at almost 4,900 degrees, the city of Minneapolis' training manual indicates.
The grenades are considered basic equipment for almost all of the country's 4,000 tactical teams, said Don Whitson, a police sergeant in Fort Collins, Colo., and chairman of the Less Lethal section for the National Tactical Officers Association.
During the training sessions that he leads nationwide, Whitson presents slide shows of officer and civilian injuries that resulted from flash-bang use.
"The incidences in injury is very low compared to the number of times they are deployed," said Whitson. "They're not toys and they should be respected."
Last week, Minneapolis officials called Russell's injuries an accident and said they were reviewing the incident. In a statement, City Attorney Susan Segal said that since the raid, "the manufacturer of the [device] has changed the design to reduce the risk that the device will roll after being deployed."
Police declined to comment Monday, saying they would have more information Tuesday.
Russell suffered third-degree burns to her legs in February 2010 when city police knocked down the door of her boyfriend's apartment and set off a flash-bang.
While officers handcuffed Russell, her legs caught fire, nearly burning to the bone.
Police had a search warrant for a drug dealer, narcotics and weapons, but found nothing.
The Minneapolis police training manual indicates the devices should be used only in life-threatening situations. The manual requires that all officers wear eye and ear protection, gloves and protective clothing and have a working fire extinguisher at the ready.
It was unclear if the 18-officer team had an extinguisher. According to the complaint, officers smothered the flames on Russell's legs with soiled dish towels.
The settlement wasn't the first flash-bang mishap for the city. In 1989, two people died of smoke inhalation in a North Side apartment after a device ignited a fire during a drug raid. The incident prompted a temporary halt in the use of flash-bang grenades, and led to an undisclosed settlement and tighter oversight of the police.
Reasonable action?
Since the devices debuted in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, their use by police officers has led to at least seven deaths nationwide, including a Charlotte SWAT team member killed in January while he secured the equipment in the trunk of his squad car, according to a 2003 University of Georgia study and subsequent press reports.
"It's nonlethal only in the sense that it's not intended to inflict death," said Donald E. Wilkes Jr., a University of Georgia law professor who did the study.
"Police ... using bombs as a search and seizure technique is completely inappropriate," Wilkes said. "They use them so recklessly."
Last fall, the city of Oakland paid $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who, like Russell, suffered third-degree burns when a flash-bang grenade exploded near her during a raid. The incident left her permanently disfigured.
In January, Rogelio "Roger" Serrato was consumed by flames and died after SWAT officers tossed a flash-bang into a home in Greenfield, Calif. The police agency involved maintains that a drug suspect was inside the house at the time.
Serrato's family is being represented in a civil suit by Michael Haddad, an Oakland lawyer and president of the National Police Accountability Project's board of directors. Haddad compares the growth in flash-bang deployments to the rise in Tasers. Deaths and serious injuries have to occur before more departments restrict use of the devices and improve training, he said.
The New York City Police Department, the nation's largest, stopped using the grenades in 2007 after a woman died of a heart attack during a drug raid several years earlier, the New York Times reported last year.
Charles "Sid" Heal, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's department commander and National Tactical Officers Association member, credits the devices with saving the lives of suspects who would have otherwise been shot during a raid. The flash-bangs often give officers a six- to eight-second window to subdue suspects, he said, because it overwhelms their senses.
"They couldn't bring the guns to bear," Heal said. "[The flash-bang grenades] can be godsends."
But the opportunity for abuse remains, Heal said.
"They work so well that the novice tends to overuse it," Heal said. "It's the same with a Taser or pepper spray."
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

Up Close: Flash-Bang Options & Procedures

Written by Eugene Nielsen
Get the most bang for your flash-bang buck.
Flash-Bang Options and Procedures
By: Eugene Nielsen
The noise flash diversionary device (NFDD), also called a flash sound diversionary device (FSDD), diversionary device, distraction device or most commonly flash-bang, has become an essential tool of the trade for SWAT. Flash-bangs are designed to produce dramatic pyrotechnics that are intended to provide a brief distraction without causing permanent injury.
NFDDs may be divided into two categories—those that only produce light and sound and those that also eject either chemicals (OC/CS) or projectiles (rubber pellets). An example of the latter would be the Stingball Grenade. The term flash-bang is typically applied to flash/sound only devices.
Although the U.S. military has used grenade simulators for more than 60 years, the Operations Research Unit of the British 22 Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment is credited with the development of the first modern flash-bang in the early 1970s. The SAS also developed and refined the tactics for the employment for these devices. The first documented operational use of a flash-bang was by Israeli commandos during Operation Thunderbolt to rescue passengers of a hijacked Air France jetliner at Entebbe, Uganda in July 1976.
In the U.S., the Los Angeles Police Department D Platoon (SWAT) was one of the first tactical teams to employ the flash-bang. The LAPD’s first flash-bang was a M116A1 Modified Hand Grenade Simulator, which was loaded down by the LAPD Bomb Squad. Today, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a tactical team anywhere in the country that does not have flash-bangs in its tactical toolbox.

Lifesaver or Liability
Flash-bangs can be either a lifesaver or a liability, depending on how they are employed. When properly employed, flash-bangs are reasonably safe. When improperly employed, they have the potential to cause serious bodily injuries and property damage.
Although flash-bangs have proven to be of extremely low lethality over many years of tactical use, several deaths have been attributed to their use. In 1984, a Los Angeles, Calif. woman was killed when a flash-bang went off between her back and a wall. In 1989, police in Minneapolis conducted a drug raid at the home of an elderly couple after a bad tip from an informant. The flash-bangs used in the raid set the home on fire, resulting in the death of the couple from smoke inhalation.
In 2003, a woman died from a heart attack after police deployed a flash-bang at her residence in Harlem, N.Y. In 2011, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. SWAT officer was killed when a flash-bang went off in close proximity to his torso. Also in 2011, a man died in a fire that was apparently sparked by a flash-bang deployed through a window during a raid of the home in Greenfield, Calif.
In Kirk v. Watkins (1999), the United States Court of Appeal for the 10th Circuit stated, “The use of a flash-bang device is neither per se objectively reasonable nor unreasonable. The reasonableness of its use depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.”
In Boyd v. Benton County, City of Corvallis et al (2004), the United States Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit held that the use of a flash-bang while executing a warrant may constitute excessive force under the 4th Amendment. The Court stated “...given the inherently dangerous nature of the flash-bang device, it cannot be a reasonable use of force under the Fourth Amendment to throw it “blind” into a room occupied by innocent bystanders absent a strong governmental interest, careful consideration of alternatives, and appropriate measures to reduce the risk of injury.”
A sound legally defensible policy and proper training are keys to the safe and effective employment of flash-bangs. Most of the injuries that occur are the direct result of operator error. Operator error can almost always be linked to a failure in training. Training not only saves lives, it’s your first line of defense in court. A municipality may be held liable for a violation of rights that results from a failure to adequately train its employees if that failure represents a deliberate indifference on the part of the municipal policy.
In City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris (1989), the United States Supreme Court stated, “Failure to train may be fairly said to represent a policy for which a municipality is responsible and for which it may be held liable where injury results, if in light of the duties assigned to specific officers, the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the municipality can reasonably said to have been deliberatively indifferent.”
In Zuchel v. City of Denver (1993), in which the United States Court of Appeal for the 10th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict against the Denver Police for inadequate deadly force training, the issue wasn’t the amount of training, but on the type of training. The plaintiff alleged the lack of a meaningful “shoot—don’t shoot” training constituted a deliberate indifference to a known risk.

Reality-Based Training
“Train as you fight; fight as you train” is the mantra of U.S. military training today. It should be the mantra for law enforcement training, as well. Although there isn’t anything that compares to reality, the goal in training must be at least realistic simulation. For training to be meaningful, it must be as close to reality as possible, i.e., reality-based training.
In the past, options were limited when it came to flash-bang training. Operational flash-bangs are expensive and impose restrictions on the training environment. This led to many agencies employing expended flash-bangs that were painted or taped blue for recognition during training.
Responding to the needs of tactical teams, manufacturers have developed training devices to realistically simulate the characteristics of operational flash-bangs. These flash-bang training devices fall into three categories—inert, pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic. They replicate to varying degrees the handling characteristics of operational flash-bangs without the cost, blast and regulatory requirements.

Inert Bangs
In the inert category, Ring’s Manufacturing, originator of BlueGuns® firearms simulators, makes two BlueGuns flash-bang simulators—the FSFBTS (a detailed replica of the CTS 7290) and the FSFBT (a detailed replica of the Defense Technology No. 25). Ring’s also makes the FSBBG Base Ball Grenade that replicates the military M67 fragmentation grenade.
Ring’s BLUEGUNS products are made with strong, impact-resistant polyurethane with metal reinforcement. The flash-bang simulators are inexpensive and last practically forever. They have a functioning pull pin, but obviously lack any “bang.” Ring’s BLUEGUNS products are made in the USA.

Pyro Bangs
Pyrotechnic flash-bang training devices fall into two categories—traditional fuzed and blank-firing impact grenade (BFIG). The BFIG is a relatively recent innovation, but generally available only in Europe. These contain a mechanism that’s designed to fire a blank handgun cartridge when the device is deployed from a height of about 1 meter onto a hard surface.
Most pyrotechnic training flash-bangs are of the fuzed variety. Fuzed training flash-bangs typically employ a special M201A1 fuze that produces between120-130 dB report at 5 feet. The training fuzes are roughly half the cost of operational flash-bangs, typically running around $15.00. The bodies may be used an unlimited number of times; the only recurring costs are for the training fuzes.
Some widely used fuzed training flash-bangs are the ALS-AMTECH Less Lethal Systems ALSDDTS Diversionary Device Training System, Combined Systems (CTS) Model 7290T & 7290MT Flash-Bang Training Systems, and Safariland / Defense Technology Low Roll™ Distraction Device® Training Body and Training Fuzes. ALS also manufactures a Sting-Ball Training System and an IED Simulator Training Set. Except for the special fuze and blue color, the fuzed training flash-bangs are identical in appearance and weight to the operational flash-bangs they are designed to replicate.

BFIG Bangs
Popular in Europe, BFIGs are just beginning to make their presence felt in the U.S. tactical community. Royal Arms International’s revolutionary new FBG-1 Flash Bang Training Grenade is the top performer in the BFIG category. Designed specifically for law enforcement and military training, the FBG-1 is hand-deployed in the same manner as a traditional flash-bang. It may be employed with either special 12-gauge shotgun blanks or standard 209 shotshell primers. For safety and to meet legal requirements, the FBG-1 cannot be employed with standard ammunition. It’s a blank firing device only.
Royal Arms’ 12-gauge blanks produce 175 dB at 5 feet. The 209 primers produce 118 dB at 5 feet. The 209 primers definitely are the most cost effective way to conduct flash-bang training, running only around $.05 each. For those training scenarios that it’s desirable to have an output that approximates an operational flash-bang, the 12-gauge blanks can be employed. Of course, hearing protection will be mandatory. The FBG-1 is manufactured by Royal Arms at it its Oxnard, Calif. facility.

Non-Pyro Bangs
Non-pyrotechnic flash-bang simulators are CO2 or “Green Gas” powered. Talcum powder (baby powder) may be put in the outer core or burst diaphragm for added realism to simulate smoke. Most of the non-pyro devices on the market were originally designed for AirSoft and paintball.
Non-pyro flash-bang simulators’ performance is somewhat temperature-dependent. In fact, some can be unreliable, especially in cold weather. Per use costs typically run between $2.50 and $5.00, depending on the device. Green Gas is actually propane.
Designed for tactical training, the Pioneer Rich Technology Development / Hakkotsu Thunder B Family training flash-bang simulator (TBS-02, TBS-03 and TB-04) and Non Lethal Training Munitions (NLTM) Thumper TG6® Training Grenade are top performers in the non-pyro category.
The Hakkotsu Thunder B Family uses standard 12g CO2 cartridges and bursting outer shells. The output for the Thunder B Family listed as either 110 dB and 130 dB…loud but not so loud as to require hearing protection. The NLTM Thumper TG6 uses special 8g CO2 cartridges (the type used in many seltzer bottles) and burst diaphragms. The Thumper TG6 has an output of approximately 120 dB.
Hakkotsu has also recently introduced its TB-05 Thunder Shock Grenade, which is intended as a booby trap grenade simulator. It has a shorter delay time (less than a second) than other members of the Thunder B Family. Hakkotsu also makes a WWII-style “pineapple grenade” body (TBS-01) for the Thunder B Family. The Hakkotsu Thunder B Family is made in Hong Kong. The NLTM Thumper TG-6 is made in the USA.

Loud But Not Too Loud
All of these pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic devices mentioned are loud enough for effective training but not so loud as to mandate hearing protection. This makes them ideal for role-playing, scenario-based, force-on-force training. Plus, training can be conducted in more locations than would be possible with a higher dB output.
Decibels are measured by what’s known as a “logarithmic function.” An increase of 3 dB will double the intensity of the report. Short-term unprotected exposure to sound pressure levels exceeding 130 dB may result in mechanical cochlear damage to the human ear. Although no permanent hearing loss should result from a single exposure to a flash-bang, the effects of loud noises are cumulative and irreversible.
Realistic flash-bang training has never been more affordable. Today’s flash-bang training options allow teams to train more often, in more places, and with much greater safety than has been the case in the past.

Eugene Nielsen provides investigative and tactical consulting services and is a former officer. He may be reached at
Published in Law and Order, Mar 2013

Detroit Cop Who Shot/Killed Seven-Year-Old in Flash-Bang Raid Blames His Superiors

May 29, 2013
In 2010, Detroit police in search of a murder suspect sent a SWAT team to Lillibridge Street just after midnight. The steel door to the building, as well as the lower unit's door, were both unlocked. Nonetheless, officers busted through the unlocked unit door and tossed a flash-bang grenade through the window. The grenade landed so close to seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was asleep on the couch, that it burned her blanket. Within seconds, a bullet from Detroit Officer Joseph Weekly's gun pierced her head, killing her her. The murder suspect police were actually looking for lived in the upper unit, above where Aiyana slept. Now, three years later, Officer Weekly's trial is starting up with jury selection on Wednesday. But questions about the events that led to Aiyana's death remain.

Deployment of the flash-bang grenade, which is intended to create confusion, appears to have been a sloppy decision rarely made in these kinds of raids, and may have startled Weekly into firing his gun. Moreover, the film crew of the A&E reality television show "The First 48" was at the scene, prompting speculation that the flash-bang grenade may have been used to add drama for the cameras.

Despite two different stories about what happened that night, one thing is clear: The flash-bang grenade, as is typical for these kinds of devices, created more chaos than control over the situation.

Police have claimed Weekly's gun accidentally went off after a confrontation with Aiyana's grandmother, but an attorney for the family of Aiyana Jones tells a different story. "There is no question about what happened because it's in the videotape," Geoffrey Fieger, their attorney, told the Huffington Post in 2010. "Aiyana Jones was shot from outside on the porch. The videotape shows clearly the officer throwing through the window a stun grenade-type explosive and then within milliseconds of throwing that, firing a shot from outside the home."

Still, Weekly's defense says he should not be scapegoated for behavior linked to the missteps of his bosses. His attorney, Steve Fishman, said in court filings that Weekly "had nothing to do with the planning of the raid and was merely a police officer assigned to a certain position ... by a superior officer." He argued his client shouldn not be deemed responsible for "ineptitude of the officer assigned to deploy" the flash-bang.

Indeed, putting cops into combat-like situations often creates undesirable outcomes.

"This was essentially a military assault on a private dwelling," Ron Scott, spokesman for a watchdog group, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, told the Associated Press, "I think the administration of the police department wanted to show Detroit was tough on crime and show something exciting for television."

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing banned reality TV crews from police rides after Aiyana's death. An A&E videographer, Allison Howard, is charged with perjury and withholding video documentation. Her trial is set for late June.

Botched SWAT raid leaves 12-year-old girl with second-degree burns

Published: 13 October, 2012, 00:22


AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
The parents of a 12-year-old girl are asking for answers from the Billings, Montana SWAT team after a flash-bang grenade was tossed into their daughter’s bedroom, sending the preteen to a local emergency room with second-degree burns.

Armed police officers busted down the door of the Fasching family’s West End Billings home on Tuesday to execute a search warrant filed by the City-County Special Investigations Unit as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation. Before they could do as much, though, an agent with the SWAT team on the scene prematurely detonated a stun grenade that is reported to have caused not just substantial damage to the home but its occupants as well, including a 12-year-old girl only inches away from where the device was deployed.

"She has first- and second-degree burns down the left side of her body and on her arms," mother Jackie Fasching tells The Missoulian newspaper. "She's got severe pain. Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes."

The girl, whose name is being withheld, was in her sister’s room when the SWAT team stormed the house early Tuesday. And while she has since been treated and released twice from a local hospital, pictures from the aftermath provided to the Missoulian by her parents show that the family didn’t suffer from just a minor mishap.

"I'm going to have to take them to counseling," Mrs. Fasching says. "They're never going to get over that."

The early-morning raid occurred at around 6 a.m. when the entire family was home, and while the Billings Police Department says they took all precautions to minimize injury, they’re now apologizing for the injury their misconduct has caused.

"It was totally unforeseen, totally unplanned and extremely regrettable," Police Chief Rich St. John tells the paper. "We certainly did not want a juvenile, or anyone else for that matter, to get injured."

According to the story the department has provided to the paper, a member of the SWAT team accidently dropped a standard “flash-bang” grenade from a metal pole placed up to a bedroom window of the house without realizing that the device operated off a slight delay. The weapons are regularly used to disorient people in the immediate vicinity with a bright flash, loud bang and concussive blast, the paper writes. When it detonated inside the Fasching home, though, it was on the floor next the child.

Jackie Fasching says all of this could have been avoided if the police would have just used their manners.

"A simple knock on the door and I would've let them in," she tells the paper. "They said their intel told them there was a meth lab at our house. If they would've checked, they would've known there's not."

Chief St. John says that the amount and significance of intelligence made available to the department was enough to warrant a raid either way, and said that the department weighed their investigation carefully before determining that a surprise visit was the best way to search the house.

"Every bit of information and intelligence that we have comes together and we determine what kind of risk is there," he tells the Missoulian. "The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time."

"If we're wrong or made a mistake, then we're going to take care of it," he adds. "But if it determines we're not, then we'll go with that. When we do this, we want to ensure the safety of not only the officers, but the residents inside."

Three days after the raid, the department has yet to file any charges against members of the Fasching household and no one in the family has been taken into custody.

The Bang Went Boom - Ensure officers understand flashbangs before they deploy them

R.K. Miller | From the May 2011 Issue of LAW OFFICER MAGAZINE - Friday, May 20, 2011
One of my earliest flashbang stories comes from entry training at a house scheduled for demolition. When night fell, the decision was made to use our new diversionary devices. Unfortunately, the officer assigned lacked proper training and was not a sharp observer of the obvious. While the entry element staged at the door, he and two others moved to what he presumed was an open window. His two partners were to “port” this opening after the device initiated. However, the officer missed the small fact that the window screen was still in place, which then became a vertical flashbang trampoline. The device landed near three pairs of shaking boots. The choreography of this tactical function then went dramatically dysfunctional. All three tried to escape their fate, but failed. While two felt the heat and heard the thunder, the device initiated so close to the third that it caused minor burns to his legs. Our humiliated flashbang officer went through a serious, four-letter-word laced debrief shortly thereafter.
Still, it was clear that this tool could make a positive difference during tactical operations. When we considered how a suspect would react to such a release of energy, the effects would surely be beneficial to SWAT missions. But we had to also recognize that the potential for injury could be equally significant.

Law enforcement has recently witnessed this dangerous side of diversionary devices. A Texas officer was severely injured, and worse yet, an experienced SWAT officer in North Carolina died due to a flashbang’s power. I don’t know all the details and I don’t want to speculate. There’s already been credible discussion, notably from Maj. Steve Ijames.

The intent here is to help the SWAT leadership and instructors understand related issues. When people are hurt without justification, there’s a good chance tactical tools weren’t used in a proper manner. If this is the case—as it’s been in the past—then defending their use is a tough proposition. It may even lead to civil penalties and court-imposed sanctions prohibiting future use. Two relevant court cases should be reviewed for greater understanding of these issues: the 9th Circuit Court’s decision in Boyd v. Benton County (374 F.3d 773 (9th Cir. 2004) and Langford v. Gates (43 Cal. 3d 21, 729 P.2d 822 (1987).

Training is Key

It’s important that operators know and respect what diversionary devices can do. Used correctly, they provide a short-lived, shock-and-awe effect that’s saved lives and yet is minimal in impact.

I know. My personal flashbang exposure log has hundreds of entries. But if those who use them aren’t properly trained, and important truths aren’t reinforced on a regular basis, it becomes a matter of confidence and competency vs. carelessness and complacency.

When your tactical team trains, watch how they treat their diversionary devices. If neglect is evident—no safety equipment worn, casual handling, etc.—then it’s time for proactive training. Like firearms, these devices can cause serious injury to civilians, cops and crooks if SWAT operators don’t use them in a sound manner. Please don’t identify a training need and then fail to take measures to correct it. That may literally blow up in someone’s face.

What the Department Says

An important element is a legally defensible diversionary device policy. In my mind, flashbangs constitute a use of force. This requires direction from the department on such issues as criteria for use, the “look before you deploy” mandate, emergency use vs. planned deployments and proper safety rules, handling techniques and storage (both personal and as teams), as well as introductory and maintenance training.

A “no-bang/exterior disposal” provision may be included to address what an officer should do if the door opens, revealing something—such as a baby crib—that cries out “Don’t do it!” Using similar language, as well as specific training, the policy shouldn’t permit attempts to “re-pin” with the original pin. It won’t work, and as we’ve seen, it can be tragic in its results.

The policy should also require accurate documentation. There may be a mandate as well that those who experience an unprotected flashbang close-encounter be medically cleared prior to booking or release from the scene. As an additional consideration, the policy may specify that an officer-involved shooting protocol should be used if there’s a serious flashbang related injury during an operation.

A good policy also requires that the team have a knowledgeable instructor. The instructor and the team leadership must monitor the operators’ mindset and proficiency, correcting unsafe techniques early and directly. Finally, the command staff must also have an understanding of diversionary devices.

Know Your Device

A flashbang is classified as a “low explosive.” It’s similar in function to another life-saving device: a vehicle’s airbag. Both produce a pressure wave and a relatively localized release of heat and light accompanied by sound and smoke. However, the diversionary device requires a solid familiarity, especially with the safety features, such as the safety pin/ring combo.

There are two common designs. One incorporates a safety clip: To pull the pin, the operator must first grasp the safety ring and rotate it clockwise before the safety pin can be extracted. Another, more traditional design comes with the safety pin’s ends flattened along the side of the fuse. For easier removal, the ends can be formed into a V-shape before the pin is pulled.

Both designs require training and practice. Instructors must never assume that operators can handle flashbangs safely: It must be confirmed. Most SWAT cops are alpha types: They learn best through hands-on use. An alternative to costly live devices are “training bangs,” which have the same manipulation and functioning as the real thing, but much less power. Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) makes such a simple, easy-to-use training system.

Some Assembly Required

Using expended flashbangs for dry fire training is another option. This requires saving the safety pin/rings and safety levers. To avoid confusion, spray paint the expended flashbangs blue or another color before assembly. As a learning process, have officers try to reassemble the devices by straightening the pin, forcing the striker into its cocked position and capturing it as the spoon is muscled into place. The officers should next try to insert an original safety pin.

This exercise will demonstrate the truth of trying to re-pin: Attempting to do so with a live flashbang is very difficult and equally dangerous. Once this fact is understood, your officers can let the striker go forward. With it in this position, they can then reassemble the safety pin and lever without having to control the striker. When completed, these resurrected bangs are ready for training use. Extra safety pins will be needed for repeating the process as they often break.

You Do What?

One dangerous technique, used in combination with a long gun, teaches carrying the flashbang with the support hand’s pinky finger through the safety ring. To deploy, the officer takes the strong hand off the weapon and pulls the device from the support hand—that at the same time is supposed to maintain control of the gun—theoretically removing the pin in the process. Another flawed technique has an operator trying to pull the pin while also holding onto a pistol.

There may be an extreme exception, but to me, it’s just not safe for an operator to try to simultaneously carry out two such potentially dangerous functions. In both cases, dividing attention between controlling a firearm and a flashbang at the same time is unsound. The correct approach is one officer, one job. Deploying a flashbang correctly and safely demands undivided concentration, while a cover officer provides the protection. The agency’s policy or training protocols should spell this out.

Palm Up or Palm Down?

Operational diversionary device use requires correct and accurate deployment. Duh! Officers who aren’t flashbang confident experience more nervousness and adrenaline dump than those who are well trained. This is especially true for a SWAT cop staged at the door, device in hand, waiting for a positive breach at the beginning of an assault.

Afterwards, it’s been my experience that the poorly trained officer often believes the device traveled just a short distance. We find, however, that due to both a lack of self-control and a poor focus on accuracy, the device is often hurled much deeper into the room than desired.

One method for better placement begins with the deploying officer in a crouched or kneeling position rather than standing. Before delivery, it’s necessary to first look inside, so the officer “pies” the opening with a cover officer. Next, rolling the flashbang off the finger tips provides for a lower and more controlled delivery. (Note: I don’t use words such as throwing or tossing. Instead, the terms deploy and delivery provide a more precise connotation for proper use.)

An alternative method is a palm down orientation. This can help reduce the potential for a flashbang ending up too far across a room. In addition, it may keep the device properly orientated so that it lands relatively level rather than vertical. Most devices have venting ports at both ends. If a device initiates in a vertical position rather than level, or if one end lands against a solid object blocking its ports, the flashbang can become a dangerous rocket.

As Major Ijames suggests, an even more precise deployment tool is the “bang pole.” If you don’t have one, get one. This equipment allows for more controlled and safe flashbang use. There’s some additional tactical choreography required but nothing a good team can’t master. Personally, I like J&N Tactical’s bang poles ( They’re designed by a SWAT cop for SWAT use.


I strongly believe in the value of diversionary devices. They’re truly effective. It’s conceivable, however, that if cops aren’t properly trained and more people are seriously injured, we may be ordered to stop using them. For an instructor, this means that there’s more to learn and share than just what we’ve discussed. Steve Ijames is an excellent resource, as are any writings by Charles “Sid” Heal, including his Diversionary Device Instructor’s Manual (available through the National Tactical Officer’s Association). Do your part to keep people flashbang safe and ensure that we don’t lose these effective tactical tools.

Train Safe. God Bless America.

Building a better mouse trap: The J & N Tactical Bang Stick

As most in the law enforcement community know, the Noise Flash Diversionary Device (NFDD) is a tool used by tactical teams to briefly distract suspects in order to reduce the risk of death and serious physical injury for all involved. They create this distraction (in theory) by surprising those in close proximity with a bright light, big boom, and slightly elevated atmospheric pressure. Sounds simple enough, but this special ops wake up call definitely has some potential rough edges.

Noise flash diversionary devices are low order explosives that generate the by-products of combustion, as opposed to the super sonic shock wave characteristic of a high order detonating explosive. Some have suggested that this deflagration brings little risk, that "people have not died or been seriously injured because of their use," and that their deployment may not even constitute a use of force.

Suffice it to say that any question concerning NFDD's and the potential for causing death or serious physical injury has been asked and answered with a resounding "YES," and responsible SWAT operators have worked diligently for the past twenty years to address this concern.

Looking back at past tragedies reveals that the critical issue for NFDD injuries is contact during ignition. Most tactical folks understand this, and for many years the prevention strategy revolved around "toss accuracy" training, product design changes, and re-thinking how the device was actually being deployed, specifically: inside the structure or out and if in, tossed as opposed to being dropped just inside the door.

None of these efforts fully addressed the problem, and the on going search for safe and effective deployment led progressive teams to expand their use of "second story" NFDD systems into every day use. High speed operators had been igniting bangs attached to long poles during second floor operations since the late 1980's. This wasn't out of concern for safety, but out of necessity.

They recognized that the delay from breach to upstairs access could have fatal consequences-absent a distraction that regained the SWAT initiative. The "bang stick" allowed a ground crew to ignite the device inside a second story window as the entry team approached, dramatically increasing their probability of success.

The devices worked well in these situations, and teams that critically examined the potential benefits made the bang stick transition for "normal" operations in fairy short order. The second story pole was much too long, so most teams used home made "break and rake" tools with the device taped to the short leg and ignited by pulling a wire rope.
Archaic at best, but they worked. As time went on it became abundantly clear (at least to me) that there had to be a better way than ginning up my latest bang stick in the SWAT garage with a stick welder. Enter J & N Tactical out of South Haven, Minnesota. Set up and run by Jeff Herr, a 13 year active SWAT operator, J & N makes the highest quality commercial bang sticks that I have been exposed to.
It is important to note that their most popular device is the BP6000, which unlike the vast majority of “bang sticks” I have been exposed to is a straight pole. It was beautifully made out of solid steel, with carbide tips and teeth for raking the glass. Industrial strength to say the least, it was clearly designed to take years of use/abuse.

But it was straight, and that raised some eye brows in the SWAT circle I’m most familiar with. I have been involved in over 100 operational NFDD uses-the vast majority involving "L" shaped "bang sticks," I had to ask so I contacted Jeff Herr at J & N Tactical, and quizzed him concerning the "no bend" design. I was ready for a sales pitch and explanation concerning how messed up I had been all these years using my "L" shaped pole. I didn’t get either.

What Jeff offered was a simple explanation that those who tested the devices found the straight pole slightly easier to control. He then suggested I try one at my next instructor school, and at the conclusion give the device to one of the teams represented. I took him up on his offer, and tested the device during back to back October schools in Georgia and Illinois. The operators represented a wide variety of agencies and levels of experience, and were exposed to the BP6000 as well as two home made “L” shaped poles.

In the end, it went just about like Jeff suggested it would. Most of the operators found the J & N pole much easier to place and control than the "L" shaped sticks, especially when the grenadier was assisted by a second person who pulled the trigger at the non-business end.

Likewise, several commented that the "L" shaped pole allowed them to take a better off set to the window, facilitating a position of cover. It simply came down to individual preference. By the way, J & N has an "L" shaped pole as well.

J & N Tactical is not the first or only company that manufactures a commercial "bang stick," and I would encourage those exploring this deployment option to look at some of the other fine products that are out there. Likewise, the quality of device offered by Jeff Herr is top drawer, and the students who tested it during my recent classes were most impressed with its durability and functionality.

They also were impressed by his commitment to those who use these things, as clearly demonstrated by his wiliness to give the $499.00 device away at the end of the course. Congratulations to Lee Graham of the St. Clair County Illinois Sheriff’s Department on his new acquisition, and to Jeff Herr-a cop doing what he can to make life a little safer and easier for those in the arena.

Steve Ijames is a major with the Springfield, Missouri Police Department, and has been a police officer for the past 27 years. Steve formed his agencies full time tactical unit in 1989, and worked his way through the structure from team leader to special operations commander. Steve was an original member of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) board of directors, and was the course developer/lead instructor for the NTOA and IACP less lethal force options "train the trainer" programs. Steve has provided such training across the United States and in 31 foreign countries, and frequently provides agency litigation defense when the use of such tools are called into question.

He can be reached at

Little Bang Theory: Mechanical processes that enhance safe and effective NFDD use

Noise Flash Diversionary Devices (NFDD) or "flash bangs" are standard SWAT tools of the trade. When used as intended by properly trained personnel, they reduce the risk of death and serious injury for everyone involved. When used outside of that environment, the opposite is likely to occur.

Flash bangs are designed to be loud and bright, and from a physics perspective they can't be either without generating heat and overpressure. Common devices are in the 3,000 degree/10,000 PSI range at the epicenter of the blast, with energy levels dropping off dramatically as the shock wave moves outward over time and distance. Unfortunately, body parts directly exposed in close proximity to the device are subject to traumatic burn/blast injuries, and recognizing this is the key first step towards preventing such negative outcomes.

Primary Causative Factors:

Traumatic flash bang injuries are the direct result of intimate contact with the device, which generally occurs in one of three ways:

Direct suspect contact at the moment of deflagration.
Direct officer contact at the moment of deflagration.
Direct officer/suspect contact (post blast) with a launched metallic NFDD body.
Intimate contact blast injuries - suspect and officer alike - are almost always caused by operator error. Suspects get injured when an improperly tossed device contacts their body at the moment of ignition. Officers get injured when they fail to properly control the NFDD spoon, and the device ignites while gripped in their hand. Both get injured when a metallic NFDD canister gets airborne after ignition, and terminates its flight upon contacting the human body.

The common denominator in each of these scenarios involves contact with the device either by toss, touch or flight. With that in mind, a number of progressive teams have adopted a prevention strategy that generally precludes even the possibility of such injuries, and enhances the flash bangs effects as well.

The Bang stick:

The most effective way to prevent NFDD contact injuries is to prevent the device from coming in contact with people. Seems simple enough, but actually doing so requires a dramatic paradigm shift in the area of NFDD operational deployment.

The use of a mechanical device to control flash bang placement is nothing new. Progressive teams began building and using "bang sticks" in the late 1980's, thinking more about second story deployments than injury prevention. Commercial versions became available several years later, as more teams began using them to enhance the safety and effectiveness of their programs.

The basic concept involves physically attaching a non-bursting NFDD to a metal pole, and using this to directly control the placement of the device at the moment of deflagration.

The primary benefit of this technique should be readily apparent: The bang stick precludes even the possibility of injuries occurring in the previously described manner-period. No tossing/contact errors. No "ignition in the hand." No flying body impacts. In a single step the agency reduces the probability of the most common NFDD injuries to zero, and adds two extremely important secondary benefits as well.

The technique draws the suspect's attention towards the NFDD deployment point, and away from the breaching elements entry point. This greatly enhances officer safety, as compared to the more common practice of breaching the door, visually inspecting the interior, tossing the device then stepping into the "fatal funnel."

Bang sticks enhance overall NFDD performance. Devices that go off on the floor generally lose a significant percentage of their effectiveness, as the light, sound and overpressure are shielded and absorbed by the furniture, carpet and other "tangle foot" that is routinely found between the suspect and the NFDD. The bang stick results in NFDD ignition 5 to 8 feet above the suspect, allowing the totally unshielded and often reflected effects to "rain" down upon him.

Considering the rationale outlined above, many contemporary teams now use bang sticks exclusively. Two notable exceptions include:

Scenarios that preclude access to entry room windows.
The unique case in which an NFDD is deployed spontaneously, and not as a part the original operations plan.

Noise flash diversionary devices are a valuable piece of police equipment. They can be lifesaving or life taking, depending on how they are used. The negative outcomes of the past should guide our training and operational decisions in the future, especially as it relates to deployment and use of the bang stick. Team leaders and operators must take direct action now to ensure that future deployments are exactly what they want them to be: safe, effective, and focused on reducing the potential for death or serious injury to persons on both sides of the badge.

Steve Ijames is a major with the Springfield, Missouri Police Department, and has been a police officer for the past 27 years. Steve formed his agencies full time tactical unit in 1989, and worked his way through the structure from team leader to special operations commander. Steve was an original member of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) board of directors, and was the course developer/lead instructor for the NTOA and IACP less lethal force options "train the trainer" programs. Steve has provided such training across the United States and in 31 foreign countries, and frequently provides agency litigation defense when the use of such tools are called into question.

He can be reached at