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10 tips for flashbang deployment

Diversionary devices, like flashbangs, can save lives, but can also jeopardize officer safety if not used properly


A man rides his bike away after a police flashbang device exploded in a crowd of protesters taking part in a May Day anti-capitalism march, Friday, May 1, 2015 in Seattle.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Diversionary devices, often referred to as flashbangs, are a critical tool for law enforcement. When used properly, they can save lives, including the lives of criminals. However, if used without proper training and precautions, they can injure and kill.

Follow these 10 tips, summarized from a National Training Concepts course I recently attended, to help ensure safe and successful use of these devices.

1. Look before you deploy!

Even if you remember nothing else from this list, remember this: You must look at the area where you will deploy the device before you place it. Distraction devices are capable of causing grievous injury and, in some extreme cases, death. You have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the area is safe for you to deploy the device before you place it. If you cannot visually verify it is safe, the device should not be used.

2. Have a policy

Your agency needs to have a carefully documented policy that explains the circumstances when these devices may be used, who may authorize their use and use them, and the criteria that would prohibit their use. The policy should also include an “exigent circumstances” clause that would permit reasonable use when the situation doesn’t allow a formal approval from the chain of command. A clear policy helps to protect the public, officers and agency from inappropriate use of these force options.

3. Ensure personnel are trained

The safe and effective use of diversionary devices hinges on quality training. The most common cause of a failed diversionary device deployment is operator error, so users must learn to properly prepare, handle and deploy the device in realistic training. Ensure that this training is properly documented for the protection of the officer and agency.

4. Wear protective equipment

Most tactical teams already deploy wearing the necessary protective gear, but some don’t. A helmet, ear protection, eye protection, gloves and fire-retardant clothing are important safety items when using diversionary devices. Ensure that special assignment personnel who infrequently use diversionary devices are suitably equipped before allowing them to handle these potentially dangerous tools.

5. Prepare for fire

There’s a foreseeable risk of fire when using diversionary devices, so personnel should be ready and equipped to extinguish any small fires that result from their use. Additionally, users should be trained to look for contraindications (the presence of volatile liquids, gases or vapors, or highly flammable materials) that would make use of these devices unsafe.

6. Have a backup

If the success of the operation hinges on a successful deployment of the diversionary device, then have a backup immediately available. Users can fumble a device or deploy it improperly. Devices can fail to deflagrate. It’s important to have another ready to go.

7. Have lethal cover

The officer who places the device may be exposed and unable to defend himself during the deployment, so it’s vital for him to work in conjunction with a cover officer who can deal with any lethal threats. This requires a high degree of coordination and practice to ensure safety and efficiency. See number three above.

8. Have a “no-bang” option ready

If a user determines it’s not safe to deploy the diversionary device as planned, there needs to be a pre-coordinated plan to dispose of the live device. It’s not tactically feasible or safe to re-pin a live device at the brink of team entry. A safe disposal area and procedure are necessary to ensure that team members, other personnel on scene and innocents are not harmed by such a deployment. Figure this out as part of the pre-operational planning.

9. Consider post-deployment plans

After an operational deployment, it’s vitally important to verify that officers, suspects and other involved citizens are free from injury. Any individuals who are visibly injured should be treated (and transported as necessary) immediately. Any suspects or involved citizens who were near the blast of the device, but are not visibly affected, should be screened to ensure there are no injuries (especially children, the elderly or pregnant women). Medical treatments and screenings should be documented, preferably with the assistance of photo and video, to protect the involved officers and the agency from fraudulent liability claims down the road.

Once the scene is secured, it would be wise to photograph and/or video the scene to document any damage (or lack thereof) caused by the device. It would also be wise to recover the spent elements of the device for evidence. Doing so will also help to protect both officers and the agency.

10. Look before you deploy!

This is so important, it deserves to be mentioned again. Do not deploy a diversionary device into an area you have not visually determined to be safe. This is the best way to avoid senseless tragedies.

Following these 10 tips will promote the safe and efficient use of these devices, and help to guarantee continued access to them, at a time where police use of force is under intense scrutiny. Negligent use of these devices could easily result in their loss, so ensure your personnel use them in a safe and professional manner to preserve access to these vital tools.

Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, senior editor at, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.