Are Today’s Officers Ready for a Fight?

By Calibre Press  |   Dec 4, 2019

Calibre readers weigh in.

Last week, Calibre Press columnist Shane McSheehy’s article, Have You Ever Been Punched in the Face? questioned whether today’s younger officers are really prepared for a fight. The query is one Shane actually uses in his training. “It’s a fairly straight forward question I ask each recruit I instruct during day one of his or her academy defensive tactics block,” Shane says. “Normally, and oftentimes predictably, less than one-third of police academy recruits have. While this may seem shocking to some, it is a stark reality.”

The question at the core of the article was whether today’s officers are being appropriately trained for “that day.”

As Shane explains it: “The day will come when it just doesn’t matter. The suspect has nothing to lose and simply does not care. He is not daunted by your position of authority. He does not fear your physical size. He is not concerned about your gender type. He could care less about your race, sexual preference, or who you may have voted for in the last election. The suspect does not only want to escape, but he also intends on physically assaulting you with all of his might and will…and when that day comes, you better know how to fight.”

Not surprisingly, the topic evoked feedback. Here’s a random sample of some of the e-mails we received:

Trooper Terry Duerr with the New York State Police writes:

I think about this topic pretty regularly and go through scenarios for when that day actually comes. I ask myself, “Will I be able to recover from being punched or will I crumble?”

I think similar to the idea of smiling at every person you encounter but having a plan to possibly kill him if necessary, it comes down to tactical thinking.  With that, I’ve come to a…well…bizarre way of prepping for this day.  I’ve been weight training since 1991 and recently on the top set of whatever exercise I do I slap myself in the face. Hard. No, I’m not meathead (debatable) but it does cause excitation for the set.  Additionally, you can really stun yourself with a hard slap to the face. This act, at a minimum, will give you a general idea of and preparedness for that day, which will surely come.

Lt. Jeremiah Larson with the Patrol Division/SWAT at El Cajon (CA) PD responds:

I’ve been in law enforcement for 18 years, been in plenty of use-of-force incidents and reviewed even more.  I am a lifelong wrestler, dabble in jiu-jitsu and other martial arts when time allows, and I’m on the teaching team for the San Diego Regional Police Academy.  All of the opinions are mine alone, but I do have some experience in this field.  As I was reading this article, a lot of things came to mind.

Our society as a whole for the last 30 years, has been taught from day one in the public schools that it is safer to ‘tell an adult’ than to defend yourself.  Those kids are grown and having kids now, so that is now taught at home.  It is a principle-based on the premise that everyone will sit down, have a conversation about right and wrong, and all see eye to eye afterward.  The idea is fine — that the adults know better than kids on how to run a school and keep people safe — but it is simply an idea.  People are the problem in society, not procedures, rules or regulations.  The schoolyard bully will not stop succeeding at being a bully until an intended victim stands up to him instead of relying on a lecture from an adult.  This translates into the cyberbullying the same way.  Stop giving the bully an audience and stand up for yourself.

That being said, I do not think training officers to fight is the correct solution.  Training officers to work toward the proper police solution is the goal.  Police should never stand toe to toe with someone and fight them.  They should always work toward the police solution.  Baton, ECD, chemical agents, firearm, pressure points, control holds, etc.  If that tool is an open palm strike to the face, so be it, but it should be a tool to move forward and away from.  Mindset is what needs to be trained.

Training to box or kickbox or using some other form of martial art is excellent and should be encouraged, but it should not be the solution.  Most of these are for sport and are not for self-defense. They also must be trained at such a level that it becomes instinctive to use during fight-or-flight mode.  Going to a boxing class twice a week will not prepare the mind to overcome stress and utilize boxing skills during a fight.  Again, training outside of work is paramount and I highly recommend it, but it is not the solution.  Continued, law enforcement solution-based, high-stress scenario training is the best option in my opinion.  The more we can stress the officer during training scenarios the more likely they are to react properly in real life.  The same concept as boxing or other sports; you must practice what you will be doing to be successful.

Back to your original point – “have you ever been punched in the face?”

The officers who have been in fights, or trained in some combative sport (wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing) tend to have a more prepared mindset because they have been ‘in pain’ and worked through it.  For this reason, I fully support continued training in some sort of combative.  However, I disagree we have to train people to fight.  We have to train them to be prepared for the fight – mentally.  We also have to train them better to avoid the fight from the beginning.  Of course ‘de-escalation,’ but more appropriately: ‘the swift and proper application of force’ will often prevent further use of force.  This can include ANY force – including command presence.  With combative training, comes confidence.  With confidence, comes command presence. With the proper scenario-based and technique-based training, that command presence translates into using the proper police solution, not just learning how to fight.

Thank you for the article.  It made me think.

A sergeant with a department on the east coast had this to suggest:

Great article. Most academies and departments do a major disservice to their people with current defensive tactics programs.  As a 17-yr. officer, DT instructor, SWAT officer, patrol sergeant, and lifelong student of various martial arts I’d recommend looking at the Gracie Survival Tactics/Combatives for Law Enforcement courses.  Learning no-gi (no martial arts uniform) jiu-jitsu is the most practical and effective unarmed defense for law enforcement.  Boxing? Only if you want to be at an automatic disadvantage because of your gear, risk breaking a hand, and feel like starring in a viral video for all the wrong reasons.

Defensive Tactics Instructor Aurelio Aranda shares:

I’ve been a DT instructor for about 14 years and it seems like the officers rolling out on patrol don’t believe “it” could happen to them…that they would find themselves in an old fashion ass-kicking contest. During training, we ran some officers on BOB dolls for 30 seconds and I thought at least three were going to need medical transport after the all-out assault.

Agencies don’t seem to be worried about having officers who are well trained in self-defense. Instead, they seem more concerned about limiting liability during these times. There seems to be more concern about where the blame will fall if an officer kills a suspect during an attack. I once tried to teach my students how to get out of a sleeper hold and I was chastised for teaching outside the lesson plan. My advice is to train at boxing gyms or MMA-style dojo’s.

Trevor R. Hosier, a registered law enforcement counselor, comments:

The best, easiest to learn and most practical defense for officers to study is Krav Maga. There are many outfits around the world, both military and police, already using it. Close quarter combat skills developed for real-world situations that get the job done. Nothing fancy, just effective. No messing around. Stopping power that can stop a threat and likely save a life. It should be mandatory training. Hoorah!

From Sgt. William Friedlander (ret.) formerly with the NYPD:

When I was trained at the NYPD Academy we were taught that we must win every fight. We were reminded that if we lost, the criminal could take our gun, our shield and possibly our life. The loss would also make it even harder for other coppers to police the streets and it was our duty to win because the average citizen depends on us for safety and security. It is best to train officers how to win street fights and learn how to use the tools they have available to gain compliance and control over the suspect. Being good at this will let the media and politicians know that we are there to apprehend criminals by all means necessary…hopefully without suffering serious physical injury or death while doing so.

Consider this: If an individual or group is willing to attack an armed, uniformed officer what would they be willing to do to an average citizen? If criminals can overcome officers, what’s going to prevent future attacks?

Scott Goetz, a defensive tactics instructor, and Director of The Law Enforcement Support Group of Southwestern PA writes:

I’m in the unique position to offer free defensive tactics training to law enforcement in my area in any subject they want – opponent control, defense against knives, gun retention, grappling, close-quarter shooting with Airsoft, etc. Many years ago, I was discussing training with an officer who was bringing his kids to my karate school and we got on the subject of LE training. He said the two biggest challenges he faced were time and money. I figured I could do something about that, so I analyzed what was needed and developed some short, 2-3 hour training sessions with some success.

Most of the departments in my area, south of Pittsburgh, are small with less than 10 officers. Many only have part-time officers so any training has to come out of their own pocket and done on their time off.

I’ve listened to what the officers have said, what Calibre Press articles have reported, and what Law Enforcement Today, PoliceOne.com, and others have said and here’s what I think:

1. Young officers feel they received good training in the academy. Older officers have been around for a while and don’t think they need additional training. They don’t see the need.

2. Many feel the benefits of training don’t outweigh the hassles, like setting aside time in your schedule, suffering the bumps and bruises, etc.

3. Officers fail to understand the principle of: If you haven’t trained for it, you’ll be slower and less efficient in reacting to it.” This is why they should train in all kinds of simulated encounters from facing a machete to defending against an enraged domestic violence suspect to dealing with an unruly mob.

I have about 25 departments on my mailing list, translating to a pool of about 200 officers. When I offer up my training programs, assuming the word gets out through the chiefs to the officers, I’ll get maybe 10 that are interested and two or three that actually show up, despite the fact the training is relevant, non-injurious, conveniently scheduled and free!

So what can be done?

1. Expand police academy curriculum. These days academies seem to be more schoolwork than training for real-life situations. Add more stressful, scenario-based scenarios experienced to the point that they are no longer as stressful.

2. The state’s certifying body needs to add to their academy certification guidelines things like de-escalation, stress inoculation, etc. If you make it mandatory, they will get the training.

3. Good training has got to become more widespread, inexpensive and available.  Krav Maga and Gracie jiu-jitsu charge $1000 for their weeklong LE training and make it only available to that department who’s officer attends the class.

4. Opponent control and close quarter combatives is a scary subject when it comes to administrators and insurance. With good gear, a skilled instructor can ‘punch you in the face’ and teach you to block, move and defend without hurting you. However, this takes time and really good planning and set up.

5. There has got to be something done with team tactics for situations involving two or more officers working to control a suspect. Two officers in one of my classes told me about a time when they had a guy face-first against a wall and one of them was trying to take him down while the other was trying to keep him pinned up against the wall. When they felt movement, they increased their pressure and fought harder…against each other. I’ve seen video clips of four officers trying to wrestle one person to the ground. We have got to train for better team approaches to these situations!

Finally, Deputy Constable Peter Donnelly (ret.) with Tarrant County, TX responds:

The Fort Worth Police Academy, the NYPD Academy and the Michigan State Police incorporate boxing, using gloves, cups, protective headgear and mouthguards in their recruit training. I believe there are a lot more, Fort Worth uses a final exam in which a recruit must do three minutes with an instructor who has been a professional or amateur boxing champion. The purpose of this training is to teach a recruit that he or she can take a punch, even be knocked down and can still stay in the fight. Please note, though, that my information is possibly dated and is based on what I’ve been told by retired officers. Having boxed in high school and college, I can tell you that despite the protective headgear, you can still feel the shock of a punch, especially from a trained fighter. Boxing was discontinued in many academies because of the potential for injuries.

Additional comments? Send them to [email protected]

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