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December 09, 2007

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Major Steve Ijames (ret.) Less Lethal Options for Today's LE Challenges
- Sponsored by TASER International

with Major Steve Ijames (ret.)

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.

About the author

Steve Ijames retired in June of 2007 as a major with the Springfield, Missouri Police Department after 29 years of service. 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 the course developer/lead instructor for the NTOA and IACP less lethal "train the trainer" programs, addressing impact projectiles, chemical agents, and noise flash diversionary devices. Steve has provided such training across the United States and in 31 foreign countries, and frequently provides litigation consultation when the use of such tools are called into question.

Contact Steve Ijames





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