Hot, loud and dangerous: Officials discuss flash-bang use

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

JANESVILLE—Stun grenades explode with a flash that blinds a person for five seconds, time police can use to subdue a suspect.

The grenades also make a loud bang and concussion that can stun someone, so they're often called flash-bangs.

Deputy Chief Dan Davis of the Janesville Police Department calls them one of the many tools in the department's toolbox.

“It's primarily intended to be a diversion and to help enhance officer safety as the officers are making some type of dynamic entry into a high-risk environment,” Davis said.

Something went terribly wrong with a flash-bang deployed by officers in Georgia last week when Janesville boy who was visiting with his family was critically injured. The grenade dropped into his crib and exploded near his face, family members have said.

Davis and Capt. Curt Fell of the Rock County Sheriff's Office said one rule for flash-bangs is that you never toss one into a room unless you look inside first.

If it's dark, you use a flashlight, said Fell, who plans sheriff's office raids.

“The way we train it is, you first see what's there, and typically you'll drop it near where you're standing. You're not going to chuck it into a room blindly because there's too much potential for somebody to get hurt,” Fell said.

No matter how good officers think their information is about the house and the suspect, there's always the possibility that someone unexpected could be inside, Fell said.

“If we need to get into a house, we don't just pick a window and chuck it through a window not knowing what's inside,” Davis said. “Each case is judged on its own merits as far as what particular tactic the SWAT team is going to use.”

Only the SWAT team members at the sheriff's office and Janesville police use them, and they train regularly in their use, officials said.

Fell recalled one instance when deputies confronted two aggressive great Dane dogs. They used a flash-bang that sent one of the dogs scurrying while they got control of the other.

Davis said he's confident in the local procedures, but he noted there is always a risk.

“I can't promise you that by the end of the day today that we're not going to throw a flash-bang at a house and somebody could get injured. It could happen,” Davis said.

Neither Davis nor Fell could recall a flash-bang injury locally. Fell said a carpet caught fire once, but the SWAT team always carries an extinguisher for this purpose, so the fire was put out quickly.

“When something like this happens on a local or national level, we review our practices. Somebody in the department will do a little bit of research and make sure our policy is in line with what is known to be best practices in the industry, just to make sure we are current,” Davis said.

Davis and Fell noted that they don't know all the circumstances surrounding the Georgia case.

“We're clearly not in a position to point fingers or pass judgment, but it's OK to learn from other folks' unfortunate situations,” Davis said.

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