During your career, you will be attacked. If you complete a career in law enforcement, you will probably be physically assaulted multiple times. As reported in the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2005 report, 11.9 percent of the officers from reporting agencies were assaulted in 2005. Of those, 27.4 percent were injured. If you work in law enforcement long enough, you will be required to use force and you’ll be required to use that force because the subject is trying to hurt you or get away.
Knowing you will be attacked, what is the best response to someone invading your personal space, trying to creep up on you and sucker-punch you, or just launching an all-out, violent attack? You have three general options if you are attacked. One possibility is you can panic and sit there like a bump on a log, but since that is obviously not a desirable outcome we’ll throw it out. The two remaining options are you can either engage or disengage. Whether you choose to engage may depend on your skill level. Please recognize, however, that even if you are highly skilled, you have a lot of things working against you. First, the bad guy gets the first move. The bad guy gets to launch a surprise attack and he may use an unseen weapon against you.
The odds are not in your favor. Typically, if you engage, the bad guy’s action will beat your reaction. If you are working with a partner and you engage, you have also made the decision for your partner to engage. And it may not be a decision your partner will be particularly happy about. It also defeats the “cover- contact” strategy of having one officer approach while the second officer remains at the ready with a higher level of force. Once you’re in a tussle, lots of bad things can happen. A weapon you didn’t see previously may be pulled out of a pocket and now you’re going against a knife or gun in a fight for your life. If you initially engage, and you decide it was a bad idea and now want to disengage, you may no longer have that option.
If you are attacked, what I strongly advocate is to initially disengage. It’s always easier and safer to disengage and go to one of your weapons. If you disengage, you can always choose to engage later. You engage when you clearly have the tactical advantage.
I know what some of you are thinking, “But Chuck, you don’t understand! Disengaging is for wimps! You have to understand that I’m the meanest, toughest cat on the planet and I can take anyone!” My response would be, “Cool, I’m glad you’re on our side.” But even if this is true, would you recommend this approach to all officers? Sometimes DT instructors get caught up in the machismo. They can fall into the mindset that only the biggest and baddest should be cops. That’s fine, but what are you going to do without 99 percent of your department – you know, the ones who aren’t as tough as you? We have a responsibility to teach all officers how to safely do their job. There are several officers that seek self defense training on their own and constantly work on improving their skills. God bless them. But they are definitely a minority and we need to concentrate on the vast majority who don’t.
Let’s assume you are the best fighter in the world. That doesn’t mean you can’t be sucker punched. That doesn’t mean someone can’t slip out a blade and stick you. That doesn’t mean you’re invincible. What if you get into a fight with a bad guy, you punch him in the nose, he bleeds a lot, and is rendered unconscious. All is good, right? Not necessarily. What if the bad guy is HIV positive or has Hepatitis C and he bled into an open cut on your hand? You think you’ve won only to find out later you lost. Your goal was to survive. Even though you won the fight, you lost. My friends who work in corrections tell me there are plenty of bad guys who use their contaminated blood as a weapon. Those infected bad guys would be happy to share their diseases with you.
My job caused me to spend a lot of time in Cambodia. It seems as if every time I traveled there I would read in the local paper about another “acid attack.” It was not uncommon for people in the villages to be attacked by someone throwing a container of acid into their face. How would you block such an attack? You couldn’t. Your best response as the acid was flying towards your face would be to move out of the way.
So what happens if you disengage? First, you have thwarted the bad guy’s initial attack. You also, at least temporarily, foiled the bad guy’s strategy as you are not where he wanted you to be. Let’s look at the strategy of disengaging further.
If someone tries to punch you, what is your primary objective? Don’t get punched. If someone tries to kick, stab, tackle you, what is your primary objective? Don’t get kicked, stabbed, or tackled, right? It seems simple enough, but how do you do that? The answer is not, “Well, if someone tries to stab me, I’ll grab his wrist in a c-clamp fashion, twist it to the outside to disarm him, and sweep his leg to take him down. And if he tries to punch me with a right haymaker, I’d use my left arm to do a hard middle block and then…” The answer is much simpler. The answer is one word. MOVE! You’ll see that word a lot. It’s the simplest and best answer to any attack. Move. If that’s too simple of a concept for you, here’s one that uses more words, “GET OUT OF THE WAY!” Same idea, just more words.
Move. Does that make you look weak or afraid? Absolutely not. It makes you look professional, alert, experienced, and very difficult to hurt. I know most officers are aggressive, hard-charging, Type A personality types. That’s why you went into law enforcement, right? You may have been hired for that trait, but you were also hired to be smart. One question you should constantly ask yourself as you are dealing with the public, making an arrest, participating in a raid, driving around town, is “Do I have the tactical advantage?” If the answer is no, I’d suggest you do what is necessary to get the tactical advantage. The job is dangerous enough without making it more dangerous unnecessarily. Imagine this, you are talking to a potential bad guy and this person is younger, stronger, bigger, and faster than you. If things broke bad right then, do you have the tactical advantage? I think not.
Even if you think you are bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled than the person you’re dealing with, you never know. They only have to get lucky once and you’re dead. In a fight, not only are you trying to control them, you are also trying to maintain control of all of the weapons you have on your belt. All of those wonderful tools are a liability if you lock up with someone and begin to grapple. All the bad guy has to do is access one of those weapons and your life gets more difficult (and possibly much shorter). If that’s not bad enough, the bad guy always gets the first move! As a law enforcement officer, you are responding to the threat. They get to launch a surprise attack and you have to be good enough to recognize it and respond effectively. Obviously, initially disengaging from a surprise attack and moving out of the way has the highest probability of success.