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?
Personal Weapon Self-Defense
Back to the force continuum, the levels of control outline the sequential steps a LEO can lawfully follow based on the specific circumstances. If the officer cannot get to a baton, pepper spray, TASER, or sidearm, they must use their personal weapons to mitigate and/or eliminate the threat. This is where training in the use of personal weapon self-defense techniques (i.e. hands, elbows, knees, feet, etc.) comes into play. We are now talking about a hand-to-hand combat situation potentially for the survival of the officer. Even if the suspect is unarmed, should they secure one of the officer’s weapons, they are now armed. We can assume that if a suspect has no apprehension about attacking an armed, uniformed officer, then they may not hesitate to use any one of those weapons against the LEO should the officer be overtaken. Federal case law (Graham v. Connor) allows for officers to use the amount of force that is objectively reasonable given the circumstances. If the above scenario is taking place, I expect the officer to do what is necessary so that they go home safely at the end of their shift. I am not advocating excessive use of force, as the law enforcement community clearly has the responsibility to stop using any level of higher control when it is safe to engage and arrest/control the suspect.
My agency and hundreds across the country have transitioned to Krav Maga for basic personal weapon self-defense techniques. It is the official hand-to-hand combat/self-defense system used in the State of Israel. In order for a self-defense system to fill the void outlined above, it must be intuitive, reflexive, easy to learn and remember and have a very low perishability rate. This means that LEO’s can learn the basics of this system in a very short period of time, and yet be extremely effective at mitigating or eliminating a personal attack.
Any self-defense system that is fundamentally based on intuitive and reflexive personal-weapon skills is a valuable tool for officers to know and have at their disposal. The statistics nationwide demonstrate an increase in officer attacks, yet many agencies across the country (for whatever reasons, we can only speculate) do not mandate annual defensive tactics training. Most agencies require that their officers qualify with their firearms annually. This is clearly necessary, but the frequency, statistically speaking, by which they may have to use their firearm, is far less than those times that they may have to defend themselves by utilizing their personal weapons.
An officer self-defense system that is founded on reflex and natural body response to threat, when used in the proper context, is arguably one of the most important tools that today’s LEO must possess in order to increase their chance of surviving a violent attack. With a minimal amount of training, an agency can provide their LEOs (all of whom have varied levels of physical size, strength and ability) with the basic survival techniques/tools to put into their personal self-defense tool bag.
Agencies can choose to increase the amount of either voluntary or mandatory training for more advanced (but still easy to learn, implement and retain) techniques that address defenses against chokes, weapon retention, third party protection, attacks from both edged weapons and handguns and from the ground. The system allows agencies to pick and choose which techniques they feel are the most appropriate so as to ensure that the particular needs of the agency are met.
Many agencies do not mandate one additional minute of self-defense training for their officers upon graduation from basic training. Regrettably, many agencies appear to rely on the uniform, verbal direction and the numerous tools that LEOs carry, but do not require training that would provide a back-up skill set that could save their lives. Many agencies that do require annual training in defensive tactics are missing the target with regard to the level of applicability that their system is designed. For example, pressure points (which can be very effective in certain situations) are less appropriate during an ongoing violent attack. Personal weapon self-defense training focuses on the previously identified weak link in the officer’s arsenal of resources, and is exactly what law enforcement needs and is currently missing in agencies across the country. If officer safety is the established law enforcement premise that we know it to be, can we afford not to explore this valuable self-defense system? The return on our investment is priceless.