This week, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina SWAT officer was killed when a distraction device, or flash bang, detonated in close proximity to his torso. The Charlotte Observer reported that the 28-year veteran officer was de-mobilizing after a search warrant service when the accident occurred.
Approximately 45 minutes after the operation, the officer was in his driveway at home “attempting to render his equipment safe” when the distraction device inadvertently exploded. He suffered massive internal injuries and efforts to save his life were not successful.
Distraction devices are a commonly-used tool for SWAT to disorient suspects, thus giving the officers time to safely locate and overwhelm them in an attempt to avoid having to use lethal force. Carried in pouches either on a load-bearing vest or drop leg holster, flashbangs have saved the lives of SWAT officers, hostages, and the suspects themselves countless times.
The safety pin and activation spoon method of detonation is borrowed from military-style fragmentation grenades. Generally, distraction devices contain about 15 grams of flash powder. A fuse-initiated explosion of this powder emits approximately 175 decibels of sound and 6 to 10 million candelas of bright light for several milliseconds.
The solid metal body of the distraction device contains the brunt of the blast, but vents it in a single or dual direction so the audible report and blinding light are experienced. Flashbangs are frequently used in SWAT training scenarios to, in effect, desensitize the officers during their use in real operations. Because of the dangerous nature of these devices, their sales are restricted to law enforcement and the military, and officers and soldiers who use them are trained by certified instructors.
At this time, the cause of the detonation is not known, but regardless, it serves as a very sad reminder for us to handle our SWAT equipment with great care. Update: More information can be found here.
Another Officer Critically Injured by a Flashbang
A Texas police officer and commander of a tactical unit was critically injured by a flash bang exploding in his hand when he was loading equipment into his patrol car. He is the second officer injured or killed by a flash bang in the past few weeks.
I am beginning to wonder if the two incidents are related, either through a product defect or product design change. Yes, mishandling is a possibility in both cases, but having two similar incidents so close together is unusual.