Riot Control, Part 3: What the well-dressed riot controller is wearing this year

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Mon, Feb 13 - 8:00 am EST | 2 years ago by
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Riot control

I’ve hinted already at my severe disenchantment with the riot control manual. Most of the following will tend to indicate some of why. Note that this is pretty military specific, but you all ought to know what’s happening, what should happen, and what isn’t happening with regards to riot control.

Head: Protection of the head involves also protection of the face, neck, and, especially, the eyes. The standard military issue Kevlar helmet is adequate for protecting the head from blunt force trauma and even some bullets1. It does nothing for the face. There are shields that attach to the helmets to protect the face and which usually reach down enough for neck guard. However, after a cursory search or three for what’s on offer now, as with the old style ones I discussed previously, they can be blurred and ruined with solvents. Yes, this would seem to include polycarbonate as well; that’s how pieces of Lexan are glued together, actually. It’s a problem. Neither can I find a face shield that is glass over Lexan, though they may exist.

Moreover, while there are masks – nicely intimidating motorcycle rider masks, for example – that are black and which could have relatively cheap replaceable clear eyepieces made, they are close fitting, hence would interfere with donning the protective mask when it comes time to use RCA2 or when smoke from burning buildings gets to be a bit much. The only solution I can see is twofold: 1) Have a ready supply of extra face shields on hand, and 2) make the immediate penalty for attacking a mask with solvents a reasonably severe beating with some kicks and stomping.

Special Tip #1: If you’re using your issued helmets, troops and commanders, turn the camouflage band around so the rioters can’t see your name. This is for two reasons. One is to prevent personal retaliation against your men or their families. The other is to send a message the rioters will understand very clearly because they’re using anonymity for the same purpose, to stay out of court. In other words, the message you send is, “Get close enough to this soldier or policeman for him to hurt you and he will, all the more readily because you can’t identify him for civil suit or criminal complaint.

Chest: The current issue torso armor seems adequate for most threats it will encounter in riot control, but, at thirty-three pounds, strikes me as awfully heavy for an activity that is already about as physically intense as a battlefield, if not even more so. With an E-SAPI plate in front, that runs nearly to forty pounds, which is simply too damned much. There is room for some minor weight savings, as will be shown below, under “Protective Mask.”

There are lighter and quite likely better armor suites coming along or already on hand for the special operations folks, but if they are not available for a unit tasked for riot control, I’ll have to say, “Suck it up; wear the vests you have; keep about ten percent of your force in reserve, unarmored but ready and drilled to suit up in a hurry, to relieve people who become exhausted from the weight and heat retention.

Special Tip #2: You want the armor not only to protect your men, but also to protect them enough to keep them from losing their tempers and running wild. When they hurt somebody, it needs to be because the commander wants that somebody hurt, that the mission is advanced by that somebody being hurt, and not because of a breakdown in discipline.

Armament: For a number of reasons, I recommend against using bayoneted rifles. The downsides are numerous, so I’ll limit myself to a few. 1) They require both hands; this means that the riot controller cannot use a shield. 2) The act of fixing bayonets, all on its own, constitutes deadly force.3 Yeah, just fixing them. So you won’t be allowed to do it. 3) That means you end up with this bullshit:


Instead, use batons. However, for that I have no less than two tips.

Special Tip #3: Grease the last eighteen inches or so of the batons with something non-water soluble, like Vaseline. No, this is not as an aid to anally raping the rioters with the batons, however tempting that may come to seem. Rather, it is to keep the rioters from snatching your batons away, which snatching encourages them to no end. If you don’t have petroleum jelly handy, thicker rifle lubricant, like LSA, can work, but spread it very thinly, so it doesn’t run.4

Special Tip #4: Drive finishing nails into the ends of your batons and snip them off to leave about an inch sticking out. No need to sharpen the part sticking out; it’s sharp enough to penetrate and leave a painful puncture wound, whether directed at arms or torsos or thighs or groins (ouch!).

Shields: There are any number of makers of perfectly serviceable riot control shields, some of which are, although frightfully heavy, bullet proof. If you need bullet proof shields, I would suggest that you’re way past the point of suppressing a riot and already involved in a civil war. In that case, shoot back accordingly.

Assuming for discussion’s sake, however, that we aren’t quite at that point yet, the shields are extremely useful. They deflect rocks and bags of shit. They can cause a Molotov to go off somewhere other than on the riot controller or at his feet. They are, themselves, offensive weapons. As Suetonius said, just before kicking Boudicca’s Britannic ass: “Knock them down with your shields, then finish them off with your swords.”


The world being as it is, however, full of iniquity and injustice, when Battalion X of the YYth division gets alerted for riot control, the shields will probably not be available. A careful search by J4 will show that “They are either in Iraq or were left behind on Johnson Island, lest Greenpeace show up some day. Or maybe they were turned into a reef for some endangered fish. Who knows?” Hence, make your own. The example above was made by one of the handier troops of B-3/5 Infantry, Panama Canal Zone, in 1983. It’s just half inch plywood, 19 by 24 inches, though they can be cut larger to fit the larger troops, with arm straps cut from condemned nylon webbing and bolted on. The almost horizontal piece is one shoulder strap from the harness of nylon load bearing equipment, stapled on and serving as a shock pad for the arm. Yes, if you actually have to make something like these do not forget the shock pad. I’d recommend not painting them with unit insignia. We were, at the time, on testosterone overload and wanted people to know who was kicking their butts.

Note, a larger shield doesn’t necessarily protect more, it just moves more slowly to protect what needs protection. These shields are very light and, given the geometry of the matter, able to be moved very quickly indeed to protect any exposed part of the body, to include the thighs and crotch. Speaking of the …

Crotch: Move your/have the troops move their protective mask and carrier from the left hip to right in front of the family jewels. It won’t slow down donning the mask appreciably and it will save a little weight while providing adequate crotch coverage.

More next week.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 in this series on riot control

Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty Images

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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1 Knew a first sergeant on Bragg who had taken a 7.62×39 (think: older Kalashnikov) in the helmet in Panama. Rang his chimes to be sure, but it didn’t get through his helmet, which is what counts.

2 Riot Control Agents

3 Roughly speaking, force that in its ordinary employment carries a substantial risk of death of grievous bodily harm.

4 I think it’s still in the system. Try NSN 9150-00-949-0323.

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