Controlling a Person Isn’t Like It is on TV
And it ain't pretty ...By Jim Glennon | Aug 23, 2017
“It was very uncomfortable. It was disturbing to watch.”
That’s what the Euclid, Ohio, mayor said about a recent physical altercation between one of the city’s police officers and a motorist.
She’s right: It is uncomfortable and disturbing to watch. That doesn’t mean, however, that the officer’s actions were wrong, a violation of policy, or criminal in nature.
Fantasy vs. Reality
I’ve been around law enforcement, to some degree, my whole life. And for almost all of that time I’ve also been watching cop shows and movies. I absorbed them. I would ask my dad, an ex-cop, what he thought of them.
“It’s all nonsense,” he would say. “They have magic handcuffs. Throw guys against the wall twice their size and slapping handcuffs on in two seconds? One punch and they’re unconscious? People flying in the air after getting shot? That’s all nuts! The most accurate cop show I ever saw was Barney Miller. Not arresting people every day. Not fighting with everyone you try to put in cuffs. Funny cops dealing with crazy people and their problems—that’s closer to reality.”
Just an old guy talking was my thought. Then when I was 24 years old, I became a cop.
My first training officer, as I remember on my first day, gave me advice I’ve never forgotten: “Listen, if you tell someone they’re under arrest, and they say, ‘Fuck you, you’re not arresting me,’ don’t even try. Don’t take your cuffs out. Wait for back up.”
I questioned his supposed wisdom. So he explained, “Listen, if someone doesn’t want to be arrested, if they don’t want you to put cuffs on them, you won’t be able to do it—at least not alone. And it doesn’t matter how big they are. So don’t try.”
But I figured Roger was an old guy—he must have been at least 32—and beyond physical exertion. But me? I was about 215 lbs. at the time. I could bench right at 300 lbs. I ran miles every day. He certainly didn’t mean me.
Within a week or so, some guy about 135 lbs., soaking wet, fought us while trying to arrest him. It took five of us. Five big, young guys just like me.
While laying on my back, looking at the blue skies of June, exhausted, muscles tingling, trying to catch my breath, Roger leaned over me,
And I’m sure, to anyone with no context or experience watching us try to arrest this guy, it would have been disturbing. Five male police officers with all of our equipment and weapons, each independently trying to control some portion of the crazed man’s body.
It certainly didn’t look like TV cops.
The mayor of Euclid gave an interview about watching the video of the officer trying to cuff the motorist. I’m going to assume she gave it before she knew all of the details and as someone with no experience in the physical control of another human.
She said: “I did not like the video I saw. It saddens me every time I see somebody being treated like that.”
The mayor also said she plans to review police department training. She did acknowledge that police have a difficult job, but said that they still needed to treat people with dignity and respect.
I agree with her totally on these points.
I know nothing really about this case, but I do know that as investigator and a boss you have to keep some things in mind while searching for the truth. Following are a few that jump to mind.
No one should rush to judgment. There are too many unknowns, and to make definitive statement without all of the information is dangerous.
What can’t you see on the video? Was the subject tensing his muscles (a prelude to resistance)? What was he doing on the ground that you can’t see? Was he grabbing at the officer? Punching? Reaching in an area of his clothing that could have a weapon?
Why was the subject uncooperative?
What was the officer’s unique perspective at the time? What clues and cues did he have not apparent in the video?
Was the officer injured? Was he exhausted? Was it possible to access other weapons?
Why were attempts at control not effective? What would have been the reaction of the subject if the officer had disengaged?
Why was the female occupant, throughout, telling her male companion to “stop”? Stop what?
What type of training does the Euclid Police Department provide their officers when it comes to subject control? If this is a case of malfeasance, is it a systemic training problem or a rogue, out-of-control officer?
Too Little Training
From our Calibre Press surveys and our interactions with tens of thousands of officers every year, we know of a particular problem in the profession: Most police departments do the bare minimum–and sometimes less, if that’s possible–in subject control training.
Most police officers, throughout an entire career, will get the bulk of their subject control training in the academy. Many get none after that.
More than 70%, according to a survey we conducted, do at most one control tactics training session a year! One! And what do they do at this training? Go over the Use of Force policy, deliver some knee strikes, a few goose-neck wrist locks, a baton strike or two and spend a couple of minutes on handcuffing totally cooperative police officers all with the same goal: “Let’s get this over with.”
No understanding of human biomechanics. No integration of performing while under stress. Certainly no muscle memory being formed.
Use of force isn’t comfortable to watch. It’s even less comfortable to execute, under pressure, with a subject you know nothing about. And when you don’t train adequately for it, gross motor skills take over, e.g. punching and kicking and grabbing. Is that the officers fault?
If the mayor is serious about wanting the best police department and police officers, then start at the top. Look at the policies. Inspect the training program. Ask some questions. Such as,
Are your officers actually given the best training possible? Are applicable and realistic communication, de-escalation, conflict resolution, and rapport-building skills being taught? Do you have a systemic protocol that addresses body language, pre-attack indicators, and detecting deception? Are your officers really being trained to successfully control a subject who doesn’t want to be controlled?
Or is it just a bunch of lip service that sounds good in a media clip?
We have a saying in our seminars,
Law enforcement doesn’t train for what it actually does and ignores those areas where we are most vulnerable. Instead, we simply hope that commonsense and untaught, untrained skills just magically kick in at the most stressful of times. And if they don’t, too often, we blame the individual officer.
Use of force isn’t pretty. It’s hard. It certainly is uncomfortable—especially if you’re the one trying to do it and you have no training.