Traditionally, law enforcement training has been very technique driven. From the early stages of the academy, officers are taught a regimen of techniques, each designed to negate a specific attack. This approach is a logical first step in the training progression from that of a naïve citizen to a competent police officer.
In many cases, the bulk of an officer's training tends to focus on tactics for controlling suspect's who provide only minimal to moderate resistance. Unfortunately, due to limited time allotted for defensive tactics training, many officers are ill equipped to handle some of the most dangerous types of assaults, such as punches, takedowns, and attempts to disarm the officer.
To make matters worse, many instructors and systems advocate the use of complicated fine motor-based techniques that are difficult for the officer to remember much less perform effectively under stress. Hesitation often results when an officer can't effectively execute technique three in a series of seven due to the suspect's level of resistance. This can lead to the officer being injured because his/her techniques were ineffective or the suspect being injured because the officer resorts to using more force than "reasonable" or a technique not authorized by the department. In either case, both the officer and agency unnecessarily expose themselves to potential civil liability.
Only by continually evaluating our defensive tactics training programs and considering alternative techniques and tactics, can we ensure that officers are best prepared to win every encounter.
Why Martial Arts-Based Techniques Fail
Let's face it, most officers due not routinely practice defensive tactics techniques on their own time. When you account for the fact that most officers receive less than 20 hours of defensive tactics training per year, how proficient are they going to become?
Many of the defensive tactics systems that are heavily reliant on Aikido or Jiu Jitsu can do an officer more harm than good. I'm not knocking either of these arts, since both are valid fighting systems that can enable even a much smaller person to overcome an attack from a bigger, stronger opponent. Police administrators tend to look favorably on these systems because they are perceived as being less injurious to suspects.
A practitioner of Aikido or Jiu Jitsu who trains diligently over the course of several years, is probably a force to be reckoned with! The problem is most officers will never attain the degree of skill required to effectively execute many of these types of techniques under the stress of a real life or death confrontation.
Since many martial arts-base techniques work well in the training environment, when the officer's partner reacts to the pain stimulus, the techniques seem to be effective. However, many officers are in for a rude awakening when they employ these techniques on a suspect who does not respond the way their training partner did because the suspect is under the influence or alcohol, drugs, or is impervious to pain for any number of reasons. In a sense, learning these martial arts-based techniques can actually endanger an officer by fostering a false sense of security.
Gross Motor Based Tactics
Officers need to be taught gross-motor skills to overcome violently resistive suspects. Gross-motor skills are large, full body movements that tend to work better under stress than fine-motor skills such as joint locks and pressure point manipulations. This can be attributed to the fight or flight response, which triggers a number of physiological reactions in the body.
During the stress of potentially violent struggle, blood is transferred from relatively non-essential areas such as the brain and other organs to the large muscle groups such as the arms and legs. As a result, the body becomes stronger and faster but significantly less coordinated. This phenomenon is what makes it so difficult to perform complicated techniques during a fight. It's also why dash cam footage rarely captures officers executing techniques in the precise manner they were instructed.
Commonality of Technique
Officers need to be equipped with relatively few techniques that can be applied in a multitude of scenarios. Hick's Law states that having two responses to a stimulus rather than one increases reaction time by 58%. Therefore, learning fifteen ways to block a straight right-handed punch might not be the best approach to teaching officers to defend themselves.
A more logical concept would be to teach officer's to deal with any type of punch by tucking their chin, shrugging their shoulder and using their arms to form a cage to protect their head momentarily and then aggressively respond with personal body strikes of their own.
This tactic could be used to negate jabs, crosses, hooks, and straight punches thrown with either hand. This prevents the officer form having to make a split-second decision as to the specific type of punch and then recall and execute the block designed specifically to negate that punch.
Emphasis on High Threat Level Responses
Despite the fact that it's widely known that a suspect will often tackle or knock an officer to the ground before continuing to assault or attempt to disarm the officer, I've received no formalized police training to prevent being taken down.
Takedown defense should be a component of every academy and in-service training program. This is even more relevant with the recent explosion in popularity of televised mixed martial arts events. The bad guys are watching and learning!
Officers need to learn to sprawl to prevent being taken down and how to protect themselves and maintain possession of their firearm while on the ground.
The Will to Win!
Officers should be taught that techniques are a means to an end. The ultimate goal of any use of force by law enforcement is to establish control. As stated, some techniques are better suited for use by law enforcement than others. But, the officer's will to not only survive but win the confrontation is far more important than any particular technique or tactic.
Officers rely on their tools, techniques, and tactics to make it home in one piece at the end of every shift. Their lives are dependent on the training they receive. That training has to be progressive, relevant, and realistic.
Always have a plan B. Never give up!