Police Officers On The Streets
The author of this book has trained many police officers in the martial arts, with about a dozen earning their black belt. We have also held special classes for officers only, letting them bring in reality street scenarios that the officer had to deal with, or with problems that could occur. We experimented and came up with some surprising solutions. There is a big difference between class room martial arts training and reality based street confrontations. I am a martial artist who teaches five styles of martial arts, and have been doing so for over 36 years. I have used my martial arts training several times in my long career but, I am not a police officer, nor do I have to face the dangers that they come in contact with daily. Therefore, I have not experienced the adrenalin surge that comes with police work.
The second best way to understand this phenomenon is to interview male and female police officers from various units (K-nine, patrol, undercover, new and experienced) to actually receive information of what physical confrontations do actually occur, how do they handle them, and also how martial arts training (or lack of) fits into this category.
Listed below are real interviews written by these officers, some of whom I have never trained. Nothing has been changed or edited. The words are real and they are their own.
1. It is true that most police officers, especially with any amount of time on the job, have little or no martial arts training. In recent years, however, officers going through the six months training academy have been getting more martial arts training. Most of it is limited to wrist locks and other controlling movements. I see the younger guys using these wrist locks and come-along holds, but almost always on the more non-combative suspects.
Most of our jobs are boring. Then there are those instances where you can instantaneously go from boredom to adrenalin rush to sheer terror. This is why our profession is one of the most stressful of all. How the individual officer handles this adrenalin surge, and indeed the amount of adrenalin dumped, varies according to each individual. This is where martial arts training is invaluable. Not necessarily for the physical fighting skills, but the mental confidence and calm that comes from an ability to defend oneself. The more confidence one has in oneself, the less adrenalin is dumped in volatile situations, and the more clearly one can think about how to handle them. Unfortunately, this cannot be taught and accomplished in a six month program. Most of these new kids have never been in a fight of any kind, and are quite apprehensive about initiating action on their own on a subject. This is readable on their faces and demeanor, and the street-wise suspect, who is usually pumped up on alcohol or some other drug, can see this. This gives him more confidence, and he displays this, giving the officer more cause to question his own abilities.
Another cause for concern for us in these types of situations is “liability”. Everybody out there is looking for the brutality complaint or easy money lawsuit. The officer goes into these situations with the question in the back (or front) of his mind. Am I going to be sued if I hurt this guy? Will I lose my house? Will the department back me, or say that I did something that was contrary to my “training”? Where am I in the “use of force continuum”? Do I have back-up here, and are they more or less capable than I? Can I take this guy? Am I going to get hurt? What if he goes for my gun? What am I doing here?
Think about all these questions flashing through your mind in an instant, along with a ton of adrenaline obscuring rational thought, when you are supposed to be concentrating on this suspect. Think about this as an inexperienced new cop, then, think about it as an experienced martial artist. Most of the above questions lose their impact when confronted by the confident mind of a martial artist who is confident in his abilities. Indeed the questions all but disappear, and the adrenaline dump is greatly diminished. The confident look of the officer, along with “take charge” verbal skills, often defuses the situation before it goes physical. Also, the experienced martial artist is already sizing up the suspect for any obvious strengths or weaknesses while conversing with him, and formulating a plan of action should one be needed. Indeed, one of the most effective weapons is our mouth.
Then, there are those instances where this guy wants to fight the police, and all the “verbal judo” in the world isn’t going to work. This guy wants to see how many cops he can hurt before he eventually gets arrested. This gives him bragging rights- “It took six cops to take me”. Truth is, he may be right because of the restraints put on us as to how much force we can use and when. We are allowed to use “one notch” higher than the suspect on the “use of force continuum”. Problem is, in the heat of battle, it is often difficult to think of these things, so most officers who have those earlier questions flying through their heads, don’t use as much force as the “Monday morning quarterbacks” tell them they can use.
The problem for the martial artist officer is that the vast majority of our techniques are designed to quickly vanquish an opponent who throws a punch or kick. We can’t do this on a suspect just because he throws a punch, where the civilian martial artist could. However, the more training the officer has had, the more options he has available to him. Hence the adage, “the more you know, the less you need to use.” We can be charged with brutality for doing shots to the eyes, throat, groin, etc, when all the suspect does is grab us or throw a punch that doesn’t even land. This is where the Ju-Jitsu or Aikido moves come into play, rather than the hard kicks and punches. Kicks and punches come when things escalate. Think you’d like to have my job.
Officer David Neuman
Baltimore County K-9 Unit
2. I have been out of the academy and on the road now for two years. In most of my day-to- day work I can say that it is very boring. But there is that once in a while when something good does pop up.
While in the academy they did teach my class a lot of control moves that basically dealt with wristlocks and pressure points. I am not going to lie if you ask me to do most of them now; I wouldn’t be able to. Actually I really don’t remember any of them. While I was in the academy it was great; you were doing them three days a week and always practicing them. But now that we’re out, who really keeps up with them unless you are in the martial arts and go to classes a couple times a week. I think the moves learned in the academy were beneficial, but only for handcuffing the “cooperative” suspect. Let’s be honest I’ve been in a couple of struggles, but not the big one yet. Even in something small like that, with the way the suspect kicks and carries on you can’t grab him anywhere to do any of these control holds; there’s no way. But when you are in the academy and everyone is cooperating it is very easy. In my academy class I think this theory was proved. We had to run full gear over a fence, the length of a football field and up three flights of stairs. At the end of that, waited a well-rested and non-tired, suspect. Who do you think won? Yeah, they said to use your control holds. Now after a run like that, no one had enough energy to try to find them, much less get a crippling grip on them if they did find them.
I honestly feel that all the training in the world will not dictate what you do until you are in that type of situation. If you panic enough your mind will go to the only thing it knows what to do, and that varies for different people. The strong may fight, the weak may run; you don’t know until it happens. But, no matter what, six months of the academy does not tell your body what to do after it’s been doing the opposite for at least twenty-one years.
There are some of us who are strong in these types of situations, and some that choose to wait or hide until someone gets there with them. And sometimes the type that chooses to wait or hide is no help when it comes down to fighting and you’re the only two officers there for a fair amount of time.
3. I have been a police officer working patrol for two years. Once I graduated the academy, I took with me the education and tools that I learned to assist me with any problem on the street. In the academy one of the classes taught was a martial arts/defense class. We were trained to do things to stop a threat, or deflect a person’s energy to defend ourselves while also placing someone in custody. We did things repetitively to ensure that when we hit the streets it would be second nature to us.
I found that in class our scenarios worked well. I couldn’t help but wonder would this really work for me on the street. I was a person who had never been in a fight nor encountered a fight. I didn’t know what to think. Being female I really didn’t put much faith in the little martial arts skills I was trained in. I’ve always felt in my opinion that the majority of women are weaker than men. So with that in mind, when I hit the street I knew that I would have to be one step ahead of the game, and always prepared for the worst. To do this I needed to do several things to prepare myself for any given situation that could arise, keeping me one step ahead of the game. By doing this even though I might not be able to work well in a physical fight I might be better able to avoid a situation before it happens.
To do this I find that I do several things to give me the upper hand in any given situation. One of the things I do when I receive a call, I begin to run things through my mind, like a “what could go wrong” scenario. When I do this I think about an imaginary scenario of what could happen and how I would respond to that. When I think about the scenarios I prepare myself for the situation and can possible be ready before they happen.
The next step I take, is avoid feelings of complacency. Even though I have only been on the street for a short time you can become complacent with your most redundant type calls. I try not to let my guard down and try to believe that this is a high priority call where I need to be on my toes. Being off guard can make you stumble upon an unwanted situation, unprepared making your chances of surviving it even less.
I also believe in this last step to help in any off duty and on duty situation. I find that when a situation arises whatever it may be, it is best to keep calm, keeping the situation at the level you want it to be at. When I respond to a call for a domestic as an example, you have both parties arguing and at a high level of anger. If I respond to that situation at the level that they are on then I am more apt to find myself in an out of control situation. However when I respond in a calm matter I find that I bring both parties down to where I want them to be therefore making me in control of the situation. It also helps to keep the parties calm from possibly fighting with me or anyone else. I think this is a very important tool in avoiding altercations on the street.
These are just a few of the things I do that help me on the street. I find that by doing these things I have avoided many situations that could have potentially turned bad. I also feel by doing some of these things, I have more confidence in myself. However just by doing these things it is possible for a situation to get out of control no matter what I do and in that case I need to do what I have to do to survive, while also not being afraid to ask for help. I think this job has taught me a lot of things in many ways to enhance what I do in my personal and professional life.
4. I have had very little martial arts training. Most of what I did have was limited to wrists holds and arm locks. Much of these “holds” have never been useful or effective.
In situations where I expect trouble from a suspect, I prefer to have at least two officers whenever possible. That always isn’t possible, and in those situations I would like to have knowledge of a more physical type of martial arts. That way, when it’s a one-on-one confrontation, and the suspect uses physical force against me, I don’t have to use a hold or wrist lock and the struggle turns into a wrestling match.
Being accused of brutality is always at the front of your mind. Especially if it’s a person of a different race or background. I feel that the training we receive during the academy is a good “starter” method for any patrolman. However, when incidents escalate I feel that we are not trained enough in any kind of combat style of fighting. A lot of new officers are mostly college students, and probably have never been in an actual fight. A lot of new officers I feel are very timid when a situation escalates where they might have to use strikes or punches due to them thinking they are going to get charged with misconduct or brutality. Recently the training we are starting to be taught at the range and in service training are more realistic and better prepare us for any situation.
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This page was last updated on 07/05/07