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Following up: The danger of flash-bang grenades

By Scott Tibbs, April 17, 2015

Since the space for letters to the editor is limited by the nature of the format, no issue can be covered exhaustively in a LTTE. Of course, no issue can ever truly be fully covered, no matter how much space is given to the topic. That is why some issues will be debated forever. But the LTTE format is inherently more limited than a blog post or an opinion column. With that said, here are some follow-up thoughts on my letter to the editor last week concerning the danger of flash-bang grenades.

It is true that police jurisdictions in these United States (local, state and federal) cover a massive swath of land with over three hundred million people. It is estimated that there are over 900,000 law enforcement officers currently serving at various levels of government. With numbers that big, there are bound to be mistakes, bad choices and bad actors. The job of a police officer can be extraordinarily difficult.

That, however, is not the issue. The issue is policy. The policies governing the use of dangerous flash-bang grenades are too lax, and have resulted in people being maimed and killed. Those policies need to be examined, and government at all levels needs to be fully transparent in the use of these explosives. That is the issue.

The use of a flash-bang grenade to subdue and apprehend a violent suspect is one thing. Active shooters, barricaded and heavily armed suspects and other such scenarios cannot be solved by a knock and a search warrant, so the use of these grenades may be justified in some scenarios.

The issue is the over deployment of the weapons, especially in simply serving a search warrant on drug offenders. In many cases, the policy of deploying flash-bangs (or deploying SWAT at all) is questionable at best and overkill at worst. For example, the drug dealer in the Bounkham Phonesavanh case was later apprehended at a separate location, without incident and without the use of a SWAT raid.

It is good that police have a variety of tools to use on a continuum of force. American law enforcement is not (and must not be) like a dystopian movie where lethal force is the first option, especially on an unarmed person running away at a below-average pace. That person should be tackled and subdued, not shot to death.

For example, a Taser is technically a "less lethal" weapon that can (and has) caused fatalities, but is certainly a big step down from bullets. But even the less lethal tools and techniques must be closely examined and good policy must be in place governing their use. Police are not soldiers and criminals are not enemy combatants in a war zone. We need to stop treating law enforcement as a military engagement.

This, of course, brings me back to the primary point of my letter: It is simply factually incorrect to call flash-bang grenades "non-lethal" weapons. A non-lethal weapon does not kill and maim people when used as designed. It is not an example of media bias to use the correct terminology. It is good reporting.