When serving the community, officers should always be prepared with all the tools necessary to survive an attack.
FEATURED IN TRAINING
I work for an agency of approximately 70 sworn officers in South Carolina. This is one of the very few states left where there’s one centralized police academy. Every officer who works for any agency in the state must, without exception, attend the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA). The Academy is currently transitioning from a 9 week to a 12 week curriculum. The defensive tactics portion of the program will go from 80 to 82 hours. Upon graduation, it is up to the law enforcement agency to decide whether or not any type of future defensive tactics training is offered or required.
In South Carolina, the LE1 (sworn officer) certification is valid for three years and the minimum requirements for recertification are as follows: Legal Update, Criminal Domestic Violence and Emergency Vehicle Operations annually, in addition to a minimum of 40 hours of other approved training during the three-year period (averaging 13.33 hours per year).
My point is I am concerned that we (police administrators, sheriffs, chiefs of police, trainers, etc.) are missing an important opportunity when it comes to ensuring that our officers have all the tools necessary to survive an attack. If you look at the trend in law enforcement over the past several decades, you’d see that law enforcement has gone from hands-on policing to hands-off policing. Years ago, if law enforcement didn’t get voluntary compliance, they would “club” or “man-handle” the alleged suspect. For obvious reasons (outside the scope of this article), the law enforcement community has transitioned away from that type of policing and, with the use of technology, has gone to more of a hands-off approach. Police administrators, for good reason, do not want officers to go hands-on with a potentially violent suspect. The safety of the law enforcement officer (LEO), the number of injuries and associated workman’s compensation issues all come into play. I would prefer that my officer, should they not get voluntary compliance, disengage, create a safer reactionary gap and utilize one of the many tools on their belt. What if they cannot get to their tools?
Before I go any further, it is important to reinforce the force continuum. I recognize that it may vary slightly across the country, but generally speaking, the Levels of Resistance that LEOs experience escalate from: Suspects who demonstrate non-physically threatening behavior (staring back at the LEO); to a suspect who is verbally defiant and non-cooperative; to the suspect that is passive in nature, and may simply cross their arms and refuse to follow lawful commands; to demonstration of behavior where the suspect is clearly not going to provide voluntary compliance as they pull or jerk away from lawful attempts to control. Finally, the last two suspect behavior types are more concerning as they pose a far more serious threat to the LEO. These two behavior types are when a suspect physically engages and attacks the LEO, and in those even worse-case scenarios, when the suspects’ attack is more violent (utilizing a weapon).
I am far less concerned with the first four levels of resistance. By and large (and I am aware that there are always exceptions), when suspects are demonstrating any one or more of the first four types of resistance, they are not physically harming the officer. My expectation for the officer is to gain compliance either verbally, utilizing some basic level of a pain-compliance technique, back-up or to disengage, thus creating a safer reactionary gap where the LEO could then use pepper spray, baton, TASER or some other type of a less-lethal method to gain voluntary compliance. Where I am greatly concerned is in those instances (statistically on the rise) where a suspect is actively attacking the LEO, or doing so by means of a weapon. In this case, I expect the officer to disengage as quickly as possible, to create a safer reactionary gap and for the officer to deploy some tool on their belt that is appropriate for the situation, which may be their sidearm, baton, TASER, etc.
The question then becomes: What should an officer do if they are unable to get to one of their tools? Let’s face it, LEOs are not mind readers, and in many cases, cannot predict an attack. The officer is, generally speaking, very close to the now-attacking suspect who clearly has the element of surprise on their side. We see this time and time again, on any of the dozens of venues where we can find training materials. You cannot expect, in the case of a suspect suddenly lunging forward punching and pushing, that the officer attempt to locate a pressure point. Many times, this is difficult to conduct successfully on a person in a static-training environment.
We all know that a very small percentage of LEOs are proficient with a skill set of combined fine and complex gross motor skills. The above scenario (a suspect is rushing at the officer while pushing and punching) calls for a much higher level of control. We all know that if the suspect gets our gun, we are in big trouble. We all know the importance of weapon retention, and if opportunity, ability and jeopardy exist, we are in a deadly force situation. Again, in this case, what should an officer do, assuming they cannot disengage quickly enough to get to one of the tools on their belt?