For Safety Reasons, Street Cops Need to Be Able to Fight Empty-handed
Most “defensive tactics” training given to law enforcement today has three characteristics:
1. It is focused on non-harmful arrest/control/restraint techniques
2. It is fairly effective against a non-resistant subject, not so much against one offering even mild resistance, nor against multiple subjects
3. It fails to adequately prepare officers to fight for their lives when necessary
A street cop, in order to be maximally effective at preventing harm to himself, his fellow officers and the citizens he is sworn to protect and serve, must be well trained to FIGHT all-out, unarmed and with all available tools. This fact is not often understood, as it seems to fly against the politically correct ideal of a kinder, gentler law enforcement officer who uses technology rather than get down and dirty with suspects. Ironically, the lack of moral will to teach cops effective unarmed close quarters combat leads to GREATER potential for badly injured and killed suspects and citizens.
A cop who is not confident in his ability to handle himself physically against determined attackers is MORE likely to try to resort to higher levels of force (i.e. firearms) in questionable circumstances than is one who knows he can protect himself physically should a situation suddenly go wrong. Cops who are undertrained and lack confidence in their abilities often revert to verbal abuse and disrespect (usually driven by fear). This leads to civilian complaints, lawsuits and mandatory programs that teach emotional sensitivity and cultural awareness. This results in an even more frustrated, rather than more confident and capable, officer–a vicious cycle!
“Controlling” Techniques Are Not Enough
A cop trained only in benign arrest and control techniques and the use of tools (taser, pepper spray, firearm) cannot confidently go to contact with a suspect to effect an arrest or modify behavior because he instinctively knows that in close quarters, the suspect could turn the tables on him in a flash and his only possible response would be to somehow create enough distance and time to access a tool. This lack of confidence in physical self-preservation ability leads to premature and/or unnecessary deployment of tools, and even worse, desperate (as opposed to appropriate and well trained) attempts to deploy such tools mid-fight, which create ideal conditions for wild shots and disarmed officers.
The solution is to train cops in the relatively simple skills and tactics of all-out unarmed combat, as exemplified by the training programs formulated during World War II by such men as William Fairbairn and Rex Applegate, with some enhancements based on a street cop’s specific needs and the greater amount of training time available to him. A street cop who has been trained to, when necessary, apply the principles of combative balance, fright reaction, weight dropping, efficient striking to the most effective anatomical targets in chaotic circumstances, disengagement- and destruction-based ground fighting and a general “Attack The Attacker” mindset (to quote Brad Steiner), is a cop who can dominate a close quarters situation instantly should a suspect suddenly become aggressive. The confidence such a cop exudes will often deter a suspect from trying anything funny. And should a suspect still decide to take it there, even with a concealed weapon, the well trained officer will be able to immediately escalate to the appropriate level of force without the potentially lethal delay of deploying tools. This officer will also be far better able to create the time and space necessary to safely deploy a firearm or other tool should it become necessary, with far less risk of being disarmed or disrupted.
When All Else Fails
We should also consider how all-out unarmed combat training would prepare a cop to deal with worst case scenarios, such as planned, sudden close quarters ambushes by multiple attackers. Contrary to what one might conclude after witnessing typical “weapon retention” training, where it seems the major threat to an officer’s weapon would be from a rather stupid assailant reaching awkwardly directly for his exposed sidearm, the fact is that most officers who are disarmed are first beaten into submission, sometimes by multiple attackers (and, notably, often while in plainclothes). A cop cannot effectively deal with a premeditated assault by a cohesive team of criminals via arrest and control methods, nor via any method that requires prolonged engagement with a single adversary. Nor can he count on being able to draw his sidearm or any other tool under such dire circumstances without first fighting to create the time and space to do so. Again we see the need for effective, hard hitting, continuously mobile unarmed combat skills, both standing and on the ground. If we compare Fairbairn’s “Mad Minute” drill (which forced a trainee to fight his way through an attacking crew of six or so heavy suspended man-shaped dummies) and its modern variants to the much more sedate, single-suspect-focused training seen in most police academies today, which would we say better prepares the trainee for the nightmare ambush scenario?
The Need for Better Shooting Methods
Speaking of sidearms, we should note here (though this could be a topic for another article entirely) that the firearms training given to most cops today should be radically overhauled or at least expanded to prepare cops for the true dynamics of close quarters gunfights. (Note that the FBI recently began to move in this direction after an extensive analysis of agent-involved shootings.) Just as most police unarmed training today focuses on controlled, compliant situations rather than more threatening scenarios, most police firearms training focuses on proactive/intellectual rather than reactive/intuitive shooting. Proactive shooting training assumes the officer will control the initiative, timing and distance of the situation. The unfortunate fact is that MANY of the situations that force cops to draw their weapons, and notably the most dangerous, are REACTIVE situations, in which the psychological and physical dynamics more strongly resemble those of all-out unarmed or contact weapon combat than they do those of any shooting match or range qualification. In a fight for his life against criminal assault, a cop needs instantaneous, intuitive spine-shot/head-shot accuracy from contact to seven yards against wildly moving multiple targets while focusing on the threats, dodging, moving, drawing, hitting, pushing, evading and protecting his weapon at reflex speed, on his feet and on the ground.
Safer for the Suspect!
So we see that training a cop for the full spectrum of unarmed combat, up to and including lethal force self-defense, actually makes him and all those around him safer-even the suspect! The cop who is confident in his ability to immediately dominate a close quarters situation unarmed, at any given level of force, is not a cop who will introduce lethal weapons prematurely or in uncontrolled circumstances, nor is he one who will shrink from his duty to protect and serve due to lack of knowledge of how to handle any given situation. Training cops in all-out combat methods yields more confident, calm, polite officers, fewer complaints of excessive force and rudeness, and fewer taxpayer dollars lost to perps with lawyers.
Police history in America’s toughest cities bears this out. Let’s not handicap cops and in turn endanger cops, suspects and the public with misguided attempts at kinder, gentler, politically correct police training.