Marksman Trainer: Police Ground Defense–The Need for Useful and Practical Training
Law officers face serious consequences when defending against combative subjects. In fact, studies indicate that 86-92% of the times a suspect resists, the fight goes to the ground. Ramifications for losing a ground battle can range from embarrassment to fatality. Recognizing the need for proper training against resistive subjects, defensive tactics instructors have traditionally turned toward sport systems. Officers have been exposed to jujitsu as well as various western wrestling moves. Many instructors are satisfied because this method involves complicated techniques they can play with. However, a majority of officers exposed to this sort of training are less than pleased with the results. Even though many are unable to successfully apply even the easiest techniques on resistive suspects, they are expected to perform complicated techniques in order to prevail in dire circumstances. Typically, reactions of officers learning these complicated jujitsu/wrestling moves has been similar to this: “They’re really cool, but I can’t remember them” or “I will never make them work on the street—this is a waste of time.”
Defensive tactics instructors must provide useful and practical training for the guys on the street. This is our first priority—all else is secondary. Too often, what would be a simple scuffle while standing up, becomes a life-and-death struggle on the ground. When determining what we teach, we must realistically understand who is doing the learning—and train them within their ability to employ the tactics on the street.
Who are we teaching?
On the other hand, the 15%ers are officers who are top athletes, with great attitudes and a huge drive for excellence. They normally don’t need departmentally-supplied training. In fact, if all DT training were discontinued, they would train on their own, at their own expense to maintain their hard-won skills and competency The 85%ers won’t…and don’t. Therefore, we must aim the vast majority of training toward the 85%’ers. The training must be simple enough for them to remember while under threat, and practical enough to be used against an offender, months after training.
There are generally two groups of offenders that officers face. The first and most common is the opportunist. This subject is someone who will fight out of emotion (usually fear or anger), and will continue to fight as long as escape remains a possibility. Given the chance to get away, opportunists normally flee. Once they are sufficiently injured or fatigued, or escape is no longer probable, their resistance disappears.
What is the law for these situations? In the case of the opportunist who flees at his earliest chance, the officer must make a Garner decision:
Beyond this, the officer must know if his agency’s policy permits this shooting under the present circumstances. The officer must decide if the attack was vicious enough to qualify. A punch or two to the officer’s face may or may not qualify, whereas a serious effort to disarm the officer likely would. Garner does not require that the suspect be armed before being shot in the back. Therefore, it is necessary to articulate the danger to pursuing officers who attempt to arrest the suspect. And finally, warning the suspect to stop prior to shooting must be attempted if the situation permits.
In the case of the prepared offender—or the committed opportunist—who continues to assault the officer despite the opportunity to flee, what can the officer reasonably believe about this person’s intentions? The only reason to stay and fight with a police officer when the officer is down and the chance to run is open, is because you intend to seriously harm the officer or kill him. If the officer objectively and reasonably believes the subject is an imminent threat (of death or serious physical injury), based upon the totality of the facts and circumstances known to him at the time, that officer may legally respond with deadly force to stop the subject’s continuing attack.
Officers must be taught to work to the police solution. It is vital when developing law enforcement training that rules governing sports not be applied. Fighting a suspect is not a tournament–there are no referees. All defensive tactics problems cannot be solved through defensive tactics. If an officer is being overwhelmed by a larger, stronger and more skilled offender who has the opportunity to escape, yet continues to assault, there are no defensive tactics that are going to prevent the officer from being seriously injured or worse. The officer is already giving it his best, and he is losing. In an instance like this, there is no choice but to employ deadly force to stop the attack. Training programs must incorporate these kinds of situations in order to guarantee realism. Any training involving ground defense must remove the “sport-oriented, remain engaged at any cost component” from its lesson plan. Additionally, the concept of successfully defending against a ground assault and then reengaging with a skilled offender is naïve and dangerous. If the subject was beating you and you somehow managed to escape, why should we teach you to go back into the fight?
Instead, the goal is to survive the incident with as little injury as possible, and to take the subject into custody. This may mean disengaging from the offender and allowing him to flee. Now, to quiet the howls of protest about “I didn’t become a cop to let bad guys go,” let’s look at the reality of this situation: If you are winning, remain engaged—this only makes sense. If you realistically believe you can win, stay engaged and reengage if you must. But if you are losing, disengage.
If you are winning, you take the subject into custody through the same problem-solving approach you always do. He may be fighting, but you, at least for now, are in little danger of losing the fight (even if you don’t have control of him). The subject is probably face down and is not in a position to harm you.
If you are losing (getting a serious beating and possibly losing your weapon because you are hurt, tired or outclassed by the bad guy, or he is arming himself ), why remain engaged? Instead, work to the police solution. Apply the law and your weapons as you were trained (according to the circumstances known to you at the time), and then articulate all of those circumstances.
Current Training Solutions
If the suspect refuses to disengage, training must provide defense options that permit effectively ending the assault. Knowledge of policy and law are vital in making deadly force response decisions. We must train our people to fight as law enforcement officers reasonably utilizing weapons. They should not be taught to emulate unarmed, highly skilled UFC fighters or jujitsu players. Our job as trainers is to provide realistic training within the allotted timeframe. Our 85%ers deserve our best efforts for their survival.
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