SURVIVING THE GROUND GAME: DEFENSIVE TACTICS IN POLICING
BY SCOTT SMITH   |   FBINA #273

In 2011, the IACP’s National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against Police released a study on felonious assaults against police officers.  When the research was completed, it stated that 72 officers had lost their lives to felonious assaults that year.  In 2018, we are expected to beat that number.  Most of the studies and strategies that had been developed all focus on the type of incident, response to incident, weapons involved and departmental policy.  While the report and study done in 2011 helps to better educate and creates an understanding of how not only officers, but police agencies approach critical incidents, it does not address when officers go “hands on” with suspects, what training they are missing or if the training they have is putting them in harm’s way (IACP 2011).

Law enforcement agencies across America are missing the mark when it comes to training officers in defensive tactics and use of force.  We all know that domestic disturbances, traffic stops, warrant services, and ambushes are the incidents that pose the most risk to officers, but many studies do not look at officer-initiated physical contact with the suspect and the felonious assault that follows.  Officers in America will make approximately 37,000 arrests a day, and in every one of those arrests, the officer must make physical contact with the individual.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 40 million persons had contact with police during the most recent year for which data was gathered (BJS 2008).  An estimated 776,000 (1.9 percent) of the 40 million contacted respondents reported the use or threatened use of force at least once during these contacts (IACP 2011).

The question that is proposed is twofold: Could officer deaths and injuries be avoided with a change in defensive tactics and would less offenders be killed or seriously injured if the officers were more confident going hands-on with a suspect rather than feeling pressured to use a tool from his belt?

Police officers today have come to rely more on their duty belt tools and less on their own abilities when it comes to apprehending or subduing a suspect.  When you look at many police agencies use of force policies, you will see the use of chemical irritants or other devices directly after the use of verbal commands.  Most if not all the change in use of force policy over the past fifteen years is a direct reflection of lawsuits and demands from the public to minimize excessive force by officers.  Growing technology and increased demands from society have placed less importance on the officer’s ability to defend himself or gain compliance.  Officers are trained to place all their trust in the use of “tools” from their gun belt.  There could be an argument that the problem with excessive force was always a lack of ability when it comes to an officer’s ability to manually manipulate or control a person.

The problem we now see with the use of “tools” is that the companies that once backed their products either do not support the officers or agencies like they did in the beginning, or they have changed the rules to such an extent that it makes using the “tool” almost too risky to implement.    Everyday companies are attempting to sell police agencies the newest and greatest tool in suspect compliance and control as an alternate to an officer going hands-on with the suspect. 

Often, officers can be seen swinging their impact weapons with little or no effect on the subjects, but then later must answer to the injuries the suspect acquired from the incident.  In law enforcement we teach an officer to swing a metal object at an individual to gain compliance, all while making stringent rules in policy that can only go against the officer when a suspect fails to comply.  Delivering strikes with any object while asking a suspect to comply is almost counter intuitive.  Ask yourself, who would lay face down all while being struck with a fist or metal object?  Strikes encourage the suspect to be aggressive toward the person delivering them, and this is often why when the strikes no longer are effective the officer will fall back to his last resort, his service weapon.

Across the country in law enforcement there is a push from police officers with elevated levels of grappling experience to change the way we approach use of force situations and gain control of suspects.  The concepts taught at select locations and groups are grounded in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, wrestling and Krav Maga.  Many highly skilled Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts are traveling the country teaching and encouraging officers to trust their grappling training. The training often focuses on being in the worst positions and gaining control without resorting to using any “tools” or weapons.

As law enforcement executives, we owe it to not only our community, constituents, and police officers, but also to the families of our police officers that we develop plans and training grounded in fundamental techniques and not rely on the newest equipment out there.   We need to recognize that the problem with the use-of-force or use of excessive force has always stemmed from the officer’s lack of quality training.  When officers are highly trained and confident in their abilities they will be less likely to use excessive force or make mistakes out of fear. 

Fear is created when officers don’t know what to do or they feel as if they have lost control in critical situations.  Officers are required to train annually with their batons, chemical irritants, TASER and duty weapons, but rarely if ever train in defensive tactics.  States mandate how many times on officer must qualify with his service weapon, which if he is lucky, he may never discharge, but there are no guidelines or mandates on hand to hand combat training.  More emphasis should be placed on manual control techniques and hand to hand combat than the training we do with the tools on the duty belt.

Our goal should be to minimize risk to the department, police officers, and to suspects with quality ground fighting techniques.  When the officers are training regularly in “worst case” scenarios they will become more confident when faced with real world situations and will be less likely to react out of fear.  Departments should seek out highly trained police officers to revamp their training protocols and regimens.  Officers should be able to survive on the ground, not fear close quarters with a suspect, and be comfortable placing his hands on someone who does not want placed in hand cuffs.  It is commonly said, that we must rely on our training to survive, but what if the training we fall back to is flawed?

Resources:

IACP Magazine, Law Enforcement Officers Killed by Felonious Assaults 2011. www.theiacp.org/NCPVAP

Bureau of Justice Statistics, https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=7


About the Author:

SCOTT SMITH

Scott Smith is currently the Police Chief of Ludlow in Northern Kentucky and is an Army veteran of the 2nd 75th Ranger Regiment.  Scott is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt under Tom Deblass and the head instructor and co-owner of NKY Martial Arts Academy.  He has instructed some of the World’s top special warfare operators and Law Enforcement SWAT teams. Teaching over the last two decades he has amassed a broad and extensive understanding of self-defense, as it applies to not only to combat and law enforcement but also to the everyday citizen. Scott Smith is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session #273.


 

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Supervisory Special Agent Savine serves as chief of the Physical Training Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Supervisory Special Agent Savine serves as chief of the Physical Training Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Supervisory Special Agent Savine serves as chief of the Physical Training Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.