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NTOA 25th Anniversary Conference

Twenty-five years ago, some forward-thinking SWAT commanders from Los Angeles decided that not only local interagency training and development was a necessary mandate for this new law enforcement response to rising criminal violence, but that the need was nationwide. Thus, a small conference took place in Albuquerque back in 1984, composed of 125 SWAT operators and tactical commanders from across the U.S. Now, 25 years later, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) returned to Albuquerque as the prestigious leader in tactical training.

This annual conference was special, the silver anniversary, held on Sept. 14-19, 2008. One of those pioneering commanders, John Kolman, addressed a standing-room only audience. Kolman is director emeritus of the NTOA and founder of the association, retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. A standing ovation resulted from his parting words to the members, echoing a solemn plea of “...entrusting the legacy of SWAT to you.”

It appears this plea is a feeling shared by many of the staff, some of whom are also retired from their respective departments. For myself (recently retired), I have noticed there is a gap afterwards, a physical sense of no longer being on the front line. Maybe it comes with the knowledge that one is missing out on the action, or, more likely, in the knowledge that you are now not on scene and unable to make a difference.

Isn’t that why most officers join the law enforcement profession to begin with? You want to be able to intervene, to help, to protect, and to make a difference, no matter how small. When you leave (retire), you’re no longer on the team, not part of the operation, no longer part of the solution. And this gap persists, like a cut that won’t heal, leaving an empty feeling, knowing there is unfinished business at hand.

Conference host duties were commanded by Chief of Police Raymond Schultz and handled superbly by the men and women of the Albuquerque Police Department. In short, the training conference accommodated 570 plus operators (both LE and military) with 16 separate specialty courses lasting 3 to 4 days, 19 short seminars, one combined practical field exercise, several recent serious incident debriefs, and the always delightful Vendor Show.

Product Expo

Without corporate support from the private sector, there would be no development or improvement in technology to support LE operations. Vendors displayed their wares for two days at the convention, and new companies ran the gamut from to Z-Medica. New communications equipment, electronics, tactical gear, medical aids, protective clothing, ballistic armor, weapons, explosives handler apparatus, robotics, and less-lethal munitions were on display for all to witness.

Of particular interest for first responders were two products needed in every personal kit. JEMS ‘Quick Clot’ 1st Response by Z-Medica can be used to stop bleeding fast. This is not just a bandage, but an emergency application “…for temporary external use to control traumatic bleeding.” Gojo Industries offered a field pouch of Purell hand sanitizers as free trial T&E samples.

Of particular interest to bomb techs, HazMat, explosive breachers, and counter-terrorist operatives is a BlackBerry-styled pocket pc known as HazMaster G3. Easily mistaken for a cell phone, this yellow colored MIL-SPEC 810F model has a large LED color display, which can instantly provide information on all WMDs, CBRNE threats, detonator IDs, outcome and response guides, and a breaching calculator for tac teams. Online contact for the HazMasterG3 is at, with desktop versions also available.

BlackHawk took center stage in the room with an impressive array of gear and protective clothing. Several armored response vehicles were on display, and the Patriot 3 SUV mounted with the MARS (mobile adjustable ramp system) fully extended was so large, it took me three shots to get a complete picture.


On special request by NTOA Executive Director John Gnagey, attendees were treated to a special presentation by the FBI on the expertise and capabilities of their HRT—the esteemed Hostage Rescue Team—and the parent CIRG, standing for Critical Incident Response Group. Special Agent Steven Fiddler is the unit commander, who gave the audience a brief general view of the structure, organization, and responsibilities delegated to the CIRG and their elite HRT.

Students were treated to a rare insight on the duties and capabilities of the HRT through some videos, including their recruitment film and a NVG (night vision) observation of an actual operation in Haiti. In addition to tactical operators, the CIRG has specialists in negotiations, behavioral sciences, and communications.

Recruitment into the HRT is not easy, as in any other special unit, and all are volunteers from within the ranks of FBI agents. Members are selected from a variety of qualifications, including background and experience. Many have prior military special ops backgrounds. An intense two-week selection precedes the four-month training course for assignment to HRT. Their mission is to successfully rescue any U.S. persons held illegally, whether terrorist or criminal in nature.

Based in Quantico, VA, they are prepared to deploy to any location within four hours of notification, with compliments of a dedicated air support unit. They are also tasked with supporting disaster relief, security details, and other high risk duties, having been deployed on more than 200 occasions since their inception, which include eight hostage rescue missions. When not on a mission, they conduct full-time training in all aspects of tactical law enforcement operations.

“Unlike how the movies portray us…” states S/A Fiddler, the bureaus’ GIRG is a stress force multiplier. He assures the spectators listening that, in reality, it is not like how “Hollywood” constantly portrays the FBI “in taking over” any operation from the locals in charge. Unless federal law mandates a lead responsibility by the FBI, the bureau maintains a force multiplier assistance role for law enforcement. After 9/11 and creation of the U.S. Homeland Security, the FBI is looking for partnership in improving the tactical world.

Field Training Exercise

The NTOA took on a tremendous task that Friday, the last day of the conference, by holding an immense field training exercise meant to test the mettle of the past week’s lessons. My class on less-lethal was excluded, as it was four-day course and Friday was flashbang certification range day. However, most other students participated in full tactical gear, armed with Simmuitions, and included course participants from Hostage Rescue, Long Rifle, Tac/Med, Explosive Entry, SCBA, and SWAT Command.

The all-day exercise began at 7 a.m. with information that unknown terrorists had just seized a school in mid-town Albuquerque, and provided responders with multiple life-threatening problems throughout the duration. The FBI-HRT provided for use their state-of-the-art mobile communications equipment from Quantico, along with several HRT operators as observer / instructors. The exercise was created by retired LAPD Deputy Chief Mike Hillman and coordinated by the NTOA staff, all on hand to coach and advise the student “commanders” and operators.

Less-Lethal Instructor Course

A few years ago, several of the classes launched what is referred to as a “Call-Out Dinner,” including the Less-Lethal course. The call-out dinners provide an informal social event for sponsors, instructors and students. Our dinner was sponsored by ALS Technologies Inc. The first item of interest I learned was that there are only three major companies that supply LE with less-lethal technologies; Combined Tactical Systems, ALS Technologies Inc., and BAE Systems (Def-Tec).

Central to this Instructor Course is not the “what” or “how,” but more important, the “when (to use)” and “why.” Fundamental in using less-lethal systems (LL) is the principle of saving lives, and not just the bad guys, but officers and innocents also. The NTOA is concerned that the trained instructors are cognizant of their recommended guidelines, physical limitations of the munitions and systems by manufacturers and policy and procedures of their respective agencies. Therefore, much of the class and field exercises involved tactical decision making.

To assist students, the course provided a spiral textbook in support of the Power Point presentation. Besides a pre-test and a post-test the LL course covered instructor development techniques, force policy, case law, LL force policy, technology and new products, delivery systems and selection criteria for product evaluation. The classroom portion was kept brisk by videos pertinent to the subjects at hand. After all, as they say “…a picture (or movie) is worth a thousand words…” offering an entertaining learning experience.

On display from day one of class were a multitude of LL munitions and the various launching systems to deploy them. Three long tables were packed with nylon bean bags, wood batons, rubber batons, foam batons, Star Lites, Super Stars, Pepperballs, various rubber pellets, fin-stabilized rubber projectiles, sting ball grenades, and launch-able tear gas canisters. I sat next to an arsenal of weapon systems including 37mm, 40mm, single-shot, 12-gauge, pistol configured, rifle configured, and Sage and Arwen platforms.

Some looked so menacing as to be mistaken for live-fire or military weapons firing lethal or HE ordinance. NTOA recommends that LL systems be dedicated weapons and color coded (orange / yellow / green), so as not to mix up lethal with LL in a high stress situation and avoid hazardous mistakes. For example, my department (and many others) routinely uses only orange stock 12-gauge Remington 870 shotguns dedicated specifically for LL munitions.

One particular projectile launcher sitting on the table bothered me, as it almost perfectly resembled an AR-15. In the dark it could be mistaken for the real thing. I was a little awestruck at the variety offered by so many different manufacturers, and it seemed quite the task to be able to master them all in order to tutor fellow officers later.

However, I was relieved to discover the purpose was not to master them, but only to familiarize the instructors with the multiplicity of systems available to the law enforcement community. Mastering the specific system(s) used by his individual agency is a post course responsibility of the instructor upon return to his jurisdiction. TASER International gave us a demonstration during class on several of its new products.

Less-Lethal Law

Of primary concern with tactical considerations were decisions revolving around managing and minimizing officer jeopardy. As a reference, case law was cited using several incidents to point out some pitfalls. For instance, in the case of Quezada v. Bernalillo County 944 F 2d 710 (10th Cir. 1991), the court ruled “…the police created jeopardy when an officer left a position of cover and forced a deadly confrontation.” So in abiding by this decision, any deployment planning with the use of less-lethal force must consider the avoidance of placing officers in jeopardy (forcing a deadly confrontation).

This concept also places a burden on officers not to place themselves in jeopardy. This is not to say we must eliminate calculated risk on our part, as risk is our business, but only to avoid forcing the suspect into a lethal option as his only choice. Most incidents deal with a double-edged sword, and on more than one occasion have officers been injured and/or killed by leaving cover at exactly the wrong instance.

Further case law reinforcing jeopardy was cited in Allen v. Muskogee et al 119 F 3d 837 (1997), and the court ruled “…to leave cover and rush up on an armed, suicidal, emotionally disturbed person and try to disarm them can be evidence of reckless behavior and poor training.” To my surprise, another case law cited seemed to be in direct conflict with most CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training programs, which leave the CIT graduate under the impression he must save suicidal persons from themselves.

In fact, just the opposite is true in view of case law. In Adams et al v. City of Reinot 1998 WL 832 190 (1998) California Court of Appeals, the court ruled “…Officers have no responsibility to save a person from suicide…” This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but just not create more jeopardy for yourself or others in doing so.

Many suicidal people can’t distinguish right from wrong while under stress or off medications. In addition, their emotions will be heightened, with anger and hatred transformed into homicidal tendencies toward those interfering and possibly wanting to take you with them. You just never know what the unbalanced mind will do.

Proper Munitions Selection

Successful tactics involve planning and the course offers much in the way of strategic options. Some are obvious and others not so. As example, the selection of the proper LL round for the specific task is crucial for mission success, so familiarity with the LL deploying system using the specific munitions was critical in avoiding problems. Placement of teams, team missions, position and duties in a LL team, available and proper lethal cover, and assessing after deployment are also vital subjects.

Tactical decision making is about space and time. Distance is your friend, and more space allows for less danger to officers in many instances. Time is also on our side. But there is a time delay in recognizing danger that can be lessened or minimized through distance, thus allowing more space between officers and suspect(s). Danger recognition is not just a time delay in officer actions, but also applies to a suspect’s actions or inaction.

When this occurs, it sometimes affords the officers a window of opportunity to act. Opportunities are fleeting and hesitation can result in a lost chance to deploy less-lethal options. Rules of engagement must include options for these windows of opportunities and they must be clear for all involved.

Scenario training is included with the range applications and system familiarization. The range day instruction composed of a variety of weapon systems for most LL munitions. Students were afforded the chance to manipulate and fire the entire ordinance on hand and the concept of mastering any of them became obvious to all. Practice is a must to be proficient with any single system and adding variables like lighting, distance, shooting stances, obstacles, and so forth will add to reality-based training.

After the demonstrations, the class was divided into small teams and given a problem to solve with the tools at hand. Each team formulated a plan, deployed and engaged the role players while the rest of the class observed. The team then debriefed the class with emphasis on the “how” and “why” and were critiqued in return by the class. I became suspicious on the last scenario when I was thrust into team leader position for a final problem; a call on an officer-down, shots fired.

Having worked with Sergeant Whitson in times past, I knew he had an ulterior motive and was putting me on the hot seat. I caught on about halfway through the ordeal and played along so the class would see the point the instructors were trying to make. The point being is that not all problems can be resolved with less-lethal force and that some situations call for deadly force to be deployed up front and immediately. So I had my rifle guy (lethal force) hold fire as we moved in using a Sage on an armed suicidal male that had just shot and wounded an officer. We wasted time, got too close, and I only ordered the patrol rifle operator to fire after the (simulated) LL wasn’t working.

Everyone got the point. The instructors were trying to “drown-proof” us. That is to say, don’t be gun-shy in using deadly force even when LL is available. A past weakness in this type of training was the mistaken assumption that LL was a mandatory pre-emptive measure before engaging with lethal force. “Not so,” say the instructors.

Depending upon the variable circumstances, deadly force may be the only and immediate option to save life. Less-lethal force is an alternative option when time permits and where the need for deadly force is not immediate or imperative at the moment.

FlashBang / FSDD Instructor Course

They have been called flashbangs, noise / flash diversionary devices, flash / noise diversionary devices, FNDDs, NFDDs and now FSDD—flash sound distraction device. The device emits a high-intensity sudden flash of light and a high decibel noise, resulting in temporary disorientation. Commonly called “bangs” by the users, they were created in the 1980s by the plank owners of special operations—The British SAS—for hostage rescue operations. Current bangs in use today are manufactured by the three major less-lethal companies: ALS Technologies, BAE Systems (Def-Tec) and Combined Tactical Systems (CTS).

The purpose of the bang is to create a distraction for entry and/or other action, producing shock and disorientation to the adversary in order to affect surprise ad divert attention. Our morning consisted of classroom instruction on history, nomenclature, usage, safety and proper deployment of the device. We learned there is a current problem with the ATF rulings regarding the federal regulations on the storage and possession of FSDD by law enforcement.

They are classified as a “destructive device” and there is no exemption for law enforcement. However, the NTOA has taken the lead again and are in working with agents from the ATF on providing an “exemption clause” for carry by LEOs. As it stands now, if you carry your bangs fuze-armed with your personal kit or in an unapproved storage container, you are in violation.

You will need a valid, current and approved less-lethal instructor in your agency to purchase sound flash diversionary devices from ALS, CTS and BAE Systems. The instructor certification for CTS is valid for 4 years, while BAE and ALS are for 2 years. The NTOA certification does not expire, and is accepted by the manufacturer’s as approved training.

All three major manufacturers cite issues involving product liability, a problem where the NTOA does not have the same exposure. Training police officers does not represent a large portion of the market share. Law enforcement and military contracts do. It is the decision by each company to decide how often they require re-certification. But the trend is to require a certified instructor at the point-of-sale in hopes of reducing injuries and liability for the agency and the manufacturer.

The FSDD is composed of three parts: the “bouchon,” or fuze element, the body or canister, and the main charge or explosive mixture. The fuze element is a mechanical device including a pull pin, safety lever (spoon), striker, primer, delay element and ignition mixture. Most utilize the military M201A1 fuze, which has an average delay of 1.5 seconds.

The explosive mixture used today in the charge is a derivative of black powder, known as flash powder, which burns brighter, cleaner and generates less smoke. Bangs produce four distinct characteristics: heat, light, sound and pressure. Fire and injury are potential hazards. Therefore precise placement is of prime importance. The ideal distance from a suspect is five feet.

The rule is to look first, as one must use sighted delivery to deploy the bang with surgical precision. This is based on case law, and only extraordinary circumstances may create an exception. You must be sure of the target area and if you don’t look you cannot be sure of anything.

Other tactics while deploying involve notifying others in the team, for example announcing “bang, bang, bang…”, and not milking the spoon after pulling the pin. If you unconsciously “milk” the spoon, it’s going to ruin your day. Three additional methods to deploy the FSDD other than by hand are by “Bang Pole” by command initiation and by launcher.

Deploy the Bangs

That afternoon class resumed at the range, where students were offered ample opportunity to deploy all three brands of bangs. Tables were arranged for cleaning the re-useable canisters, another for assembly of the body and fuze, and a record was kept on registered fuze elements used in training. Safety was again of paramount importance where eye /ear/ and hand protection were required. All participants wore Nomex gloves, goggles or safety glasses and earplugs or range ear protectors while at the shoot house.

In keeping with the tradition of reality training we followed through after the toss, entering as if on a dynamic entry, announcing and room clearing. After comparing all three bangs, there is a distinct difference between them. And most students made their preference known. After several hours the group was comfortable with safely handling these devices.

After policing the area, our group retired to a range classroom where final certificates were issued. Re-certification for Less-Lethal/FSDD Instructor is not required by the NTOA, and the power point CD presentation is made available to all new instructors via mail from the resource library.

Officer William H. Challans recently received a degree certificate in “Terrorism and National Security Management” from Kaplan University. He is a 31-year veteran of law enforcement and still an active patrol officer in downtown Denver. He is also an active NTOA member and has published several other LE related articles. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2009

Rating : 5.5

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