Trending Topics

Tactical Tools: Compliance & incapacitation munitions

With the multitude of less lethal tools such as bean bag rounds available to SWAT, it can be difficult to determine how many different options a team needs


An assortment of 12-gauge bean bag rounds. (Photo/Ed Mohn)

By Ed Mohn

With the multitude of less-lethal or, as I prefer to call them, compliance/incapacitation munitions, available to SWAT teams today, it can prove difficult to determine which technologies best suit your team and how many different options a team needs. This article will discuss the need for a team to possess multiple compliance/incapacitation munitions, the primary tools my team possesses and some deployment issues.

Multiple Munitions

I’ve been fortunate to serve on a team at the forefront of acquiring, testing and deploying a wide variety of compliance/incapacitation technologies. Because we embraced these tools many years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to deploy them and witness their effects in numerous tactical situations on a very diverse group of suspects ranging from a 100-lb. female emotionally disturbed person (EDP) armed with a butcher knife to a 6'2", 230-lb., heavily muscled combat-veteran Marine determined to fight us to the death. These violent experiences have proven to me one overwhelming fact: No one technology works all of the time. Therefore, a team needs a number of different technologies readily available on scene and alternative plans ready for when plan A does not work. You and your team members’ lives depend on it.

I want to share with you the incident in my SWAT career that seriously influenced my thinking regarding the use of, reliance upon and “presumed compliance” (per Tony Blauer) provided by these technologies. Here’s the situation: Ex-husband shows up at ex-wife’s house and shotguns her to death in front of their children. Kids run from the house; the police are called. Patrol officers make entry and confront the murderer. He’s sitting on the floor next to his dead ex-wife, a pistol-grip 12-gauge shotgun to his chin, threatening suicide. The officers negotiate with the offender from a doorway, face-to-face from 14 feet away, for more than an hour, and then decide to call us. (For brevity, I won’t get into the obvious tactical issues, the uniformed officers’ actions, etc.) We arrive, set up ballistic protection, evacuate the locals and begin what turns out to be more than six hours of negotiations. After exhausting all negotiating techniques and strategies, we receive the mission of taking the murderer into custody.

When this incident occurred, many of our team members had very recently been trained and certified as end users on the then-new M26 Taser. We developed a plan that included the preemptive employment of multiple 37mm Sage KO1 rounds from an SL6 and the utilization of the M26 Taser. The arrest team was briefed, and we practiced, working through multiple options. We practiced some more, then moved into position. On the initiation command, we engaged the suspect with the SL6 — later we determined we hit him five of six times — and then tased him.

After these tactics, the suspect dropped the shotgun and lay on his side, muscles contracting from the ongoing activation of the Taser. With two handheld ballistic shields and officers armed with pistols as cover, the arrest team moved in to effect custody, and at this critical moment the suspect overcame the Taser, grabbed the shotgun, put the barrel in his mouth and committed suicide. The suspect moved so fast my shieldmen did not engage him even though they were pointing their pistols at the suspect when this went down.

Talk about a real-world lesson in action versus reaction; we learned many lessons that night. I distinctly remember standing there after the debrief and realizing how extremely lucky we were. I was upset with myself for mistakenly believing a piece of equipment would successfully incapacitate the murderer and basing our actions on this false sense of security. I vowed I would pass the word around so this would never happen to anyone else.

Since that day, we’ve based our utilization and deployment of the numerous compliance/incapacitation munitions we possess on some very simple principles: Be preemptive, keep multiple technologies available on scene, prepare to employ them immediately on command, expect them not to work and have multiple backup plans should you not achieve compliance and/or incapacitation.

Now I’ll review the primary compliance/incapacitation technologies our team possesses, as well as some of the issues we’ve encountered when deploying them.

Chemical Munitions

Every team should carry a full variety of chemical munitions: hand- and weapon-deployable, liquid, powder, pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic, etc. Each application is unique, and you must have both the appropriate type of munitions available and the ability to deploy them.

Multiple shot, rotary-feed delivery systems and single-barrel tubes both have their place. It typically takes many rounds of 37mm chemical munitions to achieve a contamination level that will provide the desired results. On many occasions, we’ve deployed 15–30 rounds into an objective. A few situations required the deployment of more than 40 rounds, and once we deployed more than 125. When you must deliver multiple barricade-penetrating rounds from a standoff position, the multiple-shot, rotary-feed weapon systems are the way to go. The ability to shoot six rounds very quickly, change positions, reload and do it again multiple times can be a lifesaver.

3 Deployment Rules
First, when delivering chemical munitions, change positions after each deployment if at all possible. Do not use a single-shot tube to deliver multiple rounds from the same position. Two SWAT officers have been shot using this technique — one was killed. It does not take an offender long to figure out this pattern.

Second, carry more than one delivery system so you can deliver each volley quickly and maximize the amount of agent you introduce into the environment in the shortest period.

And third, start with the attic and basement. Contaminate them first, hopefully convincing the offender to abandon these tactically problematic spaces and/or discouraging the offender from going to them in the first place. Then contaminate the second floor and, lastly, the ground floor. This technique has worked well for us.

In addition to launched munitions, the hand-deployment can work well, too. Fire-extinguisher type dispersal units and flameless grenades contaminate individual rooms quickly. A team of three officers — one with a handheld ballistic shield, a second with a long gun for cover and a third to deploy the agent — typically works well. Important: You may need to port the window and/or door prior to deployment. Ensure your team practices all of the options and different formations that could come in handy when the tactical situation requires that you hand-deploy chemicals.

Pyrotechnic-deployment munitions can emit a large amount of agent in a single deployment and contaminate large areas very quickly. We carry pyrotechnic-dispersion munitions but use them only when deadly force is authorized, due to the chance flammable materials within the objective may ignite when deployed. To eliminate this hazard, many teams have developed and/or constructed burn boxes or burn safes, which allow them to introduce pyrotechnic dispersion munitions while significantly reducing the hazard of a fire. If your team decides to build and employ a burn box or burn safe, extensively test it in the types of structures in which you will deploy it and learn all of the hazards associated with this type of deployment.

Finally, the biggest issue with chemical munitions is that if the offender refuses to exit, eventually your team must go in. This requires the team to conduct the clearing operation while wearing protective masks. When did your team last practice tactical operations while wearing protective masks? Your team members should get fit-tested, train with their mask on a regular basis, change the filter yearly, ensure they can conduct tactical operations while wearing it, practice live fire while wearing it and carry it with them on all tactical operations. Once the decision to introduce chemical munitions has been made, you often can’t call a time-out to go get your mask.

Impact Munitions

Better known as baton rounds or bean bags, these munitions have helped us apprehend and arrest numerous subjects. You must have them in your tactical toolbox. The ability to accurately engage a subject from a safe distance while behind cover is imperative.

Two big issues: accuracy and effectiveness. Too many products available just don’t measure up to the accuracy standards required when engaging a suspect with impact munitions. The ability to reduce the likelihood of great bodily harm and/or death is directly related to shot placement on the body. Your delivery system must deliver the projectile to your point of aim. Prior to selecting a projectile and delivery system, test it thoroughly. What is its performance envelope? How reliable is the projectile performance, and at what ranges? Know these things prior to deploying these munitions.

Should your team get 37mm baton rounds or 12-gauge beanbags? Good question. Each team must answer for itself based on its operational requirements. We use the 37mm KO1 and KO8 SST (super soft tip) rounds from Sage. We deliver them out of the Pen-Arms multi-shot rotary feed weapon system with an EOTech Holo Site and Surefire Tac Light attached. We have experienced many successful engagements with this system and deploy it on every call-out and high-risk warrant.

The ability to engage the subject with multiple 37mm baton rounds in quick succession is vital. In our experience, one shot usually does not convince suspects to comply and or cease their activity, but multiple hits, delivered very accurately to the major muscle groups, do the trick. We are fortunate to have three of these systems, allowing multiple officers the ability to engage suspects simultaneously, a great technique when you must stop their actions quickly.

While we do keep 12-gauge beanbag rounds in our arsenal, we have yet to deploy them against a suspect. We believe the 37mm system’s ability to deliver more energy with greater accuracy from a greater distance is the way to go. We have used 12-gauge beanbag rounds during many call-out situations for other reasons, mainly to break out streetlights and windows. When a streetlight backlights your officers and you must darken the perimeter in a hurry, a couple of beanbags usually do the trick.

We’ve also used beanbags to break windows in many different situations, such as to get a reaction from a barricaded subject who refuses to communicate, or to increase the psychological pressure on a subject we haven’t seen for some time. We’ve also done this to drive suspects away from an area during a breach or delivery, and in the winter to ensure a suspect can hear our communications from a bullhorn or PA system.

You can also use these projectiles to break the windows prior to delivering chemical munitions. This way, a barricade-penetrating round will burst inside the objective and not when it’s breaking through the glass. When deploying beanbags in this manner, shoot them into the upper corners of the windows at an upward trajectory to lessen the possibility they will inadvertently strike the subject if they are close to the delivery site.

Electro-Muscular Disruption Devices

While much debate currently surrounds the Taser, I can report that an electro-muscular disruption device is a necessary piece of equipment for your team. After suspects are exposed to chemical munitions, successfully engaged with multiple baton rounds or convinced by the negotiators to surrender, we still must go hands-on to place them into custody. While many of those who surrender do so peacefully and comply with our lawful orders, many do not. Not only must you make a tactical entry to locate them, but you must also place them into custody, usually against their will. This is when devices like the Taser and Stinger shine. The ability to temporarily incapacitate suspects, giving you time to gain control and secure them, is priceless. As with all of the options, it does not work every time, but I can say without reservation the Taser has provided us the most consistent performance of the tools we currently deploy.

We actually employ at least two Tasers whenever possible and practical. The availability of two Tasers at the arrest location, typically with the REACT and/or entry teams, allows us to deploy them simultaneously or in succession when necessary.

Remember the 230-lb., heavily muscled Marine I mentioned earlier? He vowed to fight us to the death, smoked crack throughout the incident and knew he was on his way back to prison. After exposing him to copious amounts of OC and CS, engaging him with five KO1 baton rounds and hitting him with a long stream of OC directly in the face, we were able to engage him with our Tasers. The first application temporarily stopped his movements, but after he ripped the two prongs from his chest, it took a second Taser to incapacitate him and allow us to approach him and place him in custody.


I hope I’ve provided you with some operational considerations and guidelines that will assist you and your team with compliance/incapacitation munitions and delivery systems. This article was not intended to be all-inclusive or in any way exclusive, and don’t take anything in this article as an endorsement or criticism of any product, delivery system or munitions. Some work well most of the time, some work well some of the time and none work all of the time.

Train hard, for the day will come.

NEXT: How to buy less lethal products (eBook)

This article, originally published 7/25/2006, has been updated.

About the author

Sergeant Ed Mohn is a 16-year veteran of the Libertyville (Ill.) Police Department. He has been a member of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm Systems Emergency Services Team (NIPAS-EST) since 1991 and serves as the entry team leader. Mohn has been awarded the NIPAS Medal Of Valor, the NIPAS Commendation Medal and the Illinois Tactical Officers Association Unit Citation. He currently serves on the Illinois Tactical Officers Association Board of Directors and the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm Systems Operational Committee, and he’s an Illinois state certified lead instructor in a wide variety of tactical and firearm-related disciplines.

Law Officer is a publication for the professional law enforcement officer. Law Officer’s mission is “to provide the best in tactics, technology and training.” Law Officer has partnered with to deliver editorial content to help officers and departments be more effective and efficient. Click here for more information on Law Officer Magazine or Click here to subscribe.