In the world of tactical law enforcement, breaching is the most important specialty of all. If the breach into a potentially hostile location is not successful, if the doorway or other entry portal is not opened in a rapid fashion, then suspects will have time to react, and officers and innocents may well be put in jeopardy.
For most agencies, forced breaching using hand tools is the norm for all tactical operations. Unfortunately for most departments, this technique is the only option available. When a target is such that manual breaching may not be enough in terms of speed or power, those agencies are left with few options other than to seek help from another law enforcement organization or go with a technique or tactic that may be less than optimal.
Officers who have stood at the breach point of a target waiting for what seems to be an eternity while the breachers attempt to break open a doorway know exactly what it feels like to be in the open and exposed. It is truly a lonely feeling, even when surrounded by 10 of your closest friends, all of whom are armed. This is not a feeling or problem that is unique to one agency; many tactical officers across the country have felt the same way. Many officers have felt that there has to be a better way to breach doors in safety. Now there is.
Sandy Wall, a highly decorated and now retired Houston, TX Police Department SWAT officer, believed that there had to be a better way of opening entry portals rather than standing in front of the doorway and beating on it with a ram or other tool. Wall, who has made literally hundreds of tactical entries, looked at the problem from the vantage point of an entry team member and devised an option that had not been seen before.
Wall looked at the problem and asked what could be found to open the doorway, short of actual specialty explosives, with as little risk to the team and to the occupants as possible while at the same time offering the shock, speed and stunning effect of a full-out explosive breach without the danger, cost and the needed lengthy certification courses as using those compounds.
Over the course of the past several years, he and a group of like-minded individuals developed a new tool to add to the arsenal of law enforcement. The result is known simply as “The Wallbanger.”
The Wallbanger is a revolutionary device that is capable of being used to quickly, efficiently and safely to open an entry point into a crisis site.
The device resembles a common bang-pole, which it actually doubles as. And the device uses the reload charges from Defense Technologies’ Mk 25 diversion devices, a common and often used law enforcement tool, to blow the doorway open. This is done by using the force of the detonation of the charge, channeled by a box-shaped chamber attached to the end of a pole. The pole can be extended to various lengths.
Using the Wallbanger, tactical units can approach a doorway, staying behind the relative safety of a wall or other area where they are concealed. At the same time, the breacher who has total control of the Wallbanger device, approaches quickly and blows open the door from behind the same area of cover or concealment. No longer is there a need to put an officer in front of the doorway to be breached.
This all happens because the charge box, which is large enough to cover the area of the locking mechanisms, is placed firmly against the door. The charge or charges are command detonated via the use of shock tube and an initiator, which have been secured in place before the team’s approach. Once the device is detonated, the doorway is pushed open using the hinges of the doorway as a means of leverage to assist in defeating the locking mechanisms. The breacher feels relatively little recoil, as most of the force of the detonation is directed into the door.
This whole operation is very quick to accomplish. The tactical unit approaches, places the Wallbanger in position, breaches the door and flows into the target area in mere seconds. The result of the detonation of the Wallbanger is truly awe inspiring and is second only to an actual explosive breach operation in shock effect.
Once the detonation has occurred and the doorway is opened, the breacher can simply place the device on the ground and make entry with the rest of the tactical team. There are no encumbrances to the breacher or the team that need to be cleared before this movement. There is little debris or smoke, which results in an easier entry for the tactical officers. This device has shown itself to be quite effective on most doors and is clearly able to establish the speed and shock effect needed for a successful tactical entry.
With so much riding on a positive breach during a crisis, it was imperative that the Wallbanger be tested to the point of failure, so Wall and his associates set about doing exactly that. They set about testing the device on every door they could find in as many different parts of the country as they could find to demonstrate and, at the same time, test the device.
This testing in different parts of the country using actual doorways and “live” locations was a must as construction methods, techniques and standards are different throughout the country. They were not just looking at testing it on residential doorways but were looking for exactly how much was too much for the technique and for the technology.
Just as with any breaching method, including explosives, a target location needs to be evaluated to determine exactly how much force will be needed to move the obstruction, whether that obstruction be a doorway or something else. An officer must determine if the target is such that a manual breach will work or will it require X grams of explosives.
Possibly the target will require a method such as a cutting torch or a vehicle-based pull to achieve the require opening, so it is imperative that a pre-operation evaluation of the target location take place. Because the Wallbanger technology was new, no one was exactly sure what it was capable of doing, so a baseline needed to be established.
Through the entire process of testing, the Wallbanger successfully defeated both interior and exterior residential doorways, it opened commercial doorways, and it proved itself against a variety of other obstructions. The point of failure was reached when the Wallbanger was put up against two 3.5-inch-thick wooden doorways, best described as “massive.”
The doors, which weighed well in excess of 100 pounds each, had been hanging in place at an old abandoned military base for decades. The doors were set into a metal doorframe, secured by quality locks, including both a standard knob lock and a dead bolt. Try as they might, breachers using the Wallbanger could not open the doors. They were simply too much for the force capable of being generated by the device to open.
Several officers came away from the demonstration asking, “Why, if the explosive force of two diversion devices were utilized, did the door not open?” The answer is simple physics. The mass of the doorway, coupled with the holding ability of the locking system was simply greater than the force generated by the charges utilized by the Wallbanger. It was not a fault of the device but rather simply more than what this particular piece of technology is capable of defeating.
Even true explosives, given the same “output,” would not have been enough and would have had to be increased to the point where the force that they could exert was more than the force (weight, tension and friction) holding the doorway. Testing to failure is imperative when lives are going to be depending upon a piece of equipment. So in reality, this test, which resulted in a failed breach, was a complete success.
The chances of encountering a door such as the one that stymied the device is small but possible. This is but one reason why it is an absolute requirement that every breacher compile a log book of exactly what technique was used, both successfully and otherwise, in every operation. It is also why each target must be evaluated to determine the viability of using a standard breaching protocol. If the door is too much for your normal technique, move on to the next one. Do not just “hope” everything will go well. Evaluate if you can get it done with the tools and techniques at hand because lives are on the line.
In addition to being an excellent breaching option, the Wallbanger can also be used as a “bang-pole” in that it will command detonate one, or if configured correctly two, diversion devices. These can be attached to the pole so that they can be placed exactly where needed without the possibility of them straying from the target area and causing a problem. The pole is capable of being extended to easily reach a second story window from ground level and is sturdy enough to be used to breach the glass before detonating the device. Likewise, the Wallbanger can be used to deliver chemical munitions into a specific area of a target location just as it does with a diversion device.
While not the total answer to all breaching challenges, the Wallbanger is a very useful addition to the law enforcement arsenal. It will allow for more agencies to approach the standard of explosive breaching without actually crossing the threshold into such a valuable, yet controversial, area. Because a learning curve with the unit exists, users of the Wallbanger need to be trained and certified. Issues may exists that need to be addressed in each circumstance. However, those are not so different as many other common tactical items such as diversion devices and chemical or less-lethal munitions.
Wall has created an innovative device that will undoubtedly save lives. No longer must an officer stand in the line of fire to open a doorway into a crisis site. The tactical triad of speed, shock and violence of action is set well in motion using the Wallbanger. It was designed by experienced tactical operators who know what it takes to make an incident end safely for all, and it is worth an evaluation. Capt Larkin Fourkiller, a retired Kokomo (IN) SWAT Team commander, is an FBINA graduate and holds a master's degree in criminology. He has provided less-lethal training throughout the United States and has authored numerous tactical related articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He can be reached at email@example.com.