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Departments : The Winning Edge

Arresting Active Resisters

Knowing when to use force and how much to use is the key to controlling resisting suspects.

June 26, 2013  |  by Michael Schlosser

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
An active resister is an arrestee who exhibits resistive behavior to avoid physical control by a law enforcement officer. If an arrestee is actively resisting an officer, the officer may take reasonable measures to control the subject and take him or her into custody. These reasonable measures or tactics include standing control, takedowns, ground control, and the use of less-lethal weapons such as electronic control devices (TASERs) and O.C. spray.

You have to make split-second decisions when it comes to use of force while effecting an arrest. Training in strategy and tactics, control and verbal techniques, and proper use of force are essential for you to make proper decisions.

Unfortunately, most officers are unable to receive as much education and training as departments would like. That said, however, the training you do receive plays an important role in the decision-making process, even when techniques employed on the street may not be exactly as you practiced them in training.

Basic Actions

Luckily, it is not essential that each technique be exactly like what you learned in training—step by step with perfect form. What is essential, however, is that you understand these basic concepts:

  1. You would rather gain compliance with verbal skills when effecting an arrest.
  2. You would prefer to implement the principle of mass—2:1 ratio of officers to arrestee—when effecting an arrest.
  3. You would rather control someone standing than have to fight him or her on the ground.
  4. If you cannot control someone standing, you have three options: initiate a takedown for control, disengage and get to a tool, disengage and retreat.

Verbal Skills

Most arrests that officers make involve a cooperative subject. In a 1999 study conducted by the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzing 7,512 arrests, it was found that 82.9% of all arrests did not involve the use of force. This is largely because police officers today have the ability to de-escalate situations and gain cooperation through verbal skills.

Over the last 20 years, training has improved in specific methods for gaining compliance through verbal skills. Dr. George Thompson, author of "Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion," is credited for much of this paradigm shift. Thompson's eight-step traffic stop, seven-step person stop, and five-step hard style, were among the first proven researched techniques to help officers learn methods for gaining voluntary compliance. Verbal Judo philosophy and practical application of the theory have helped change how police officers do their jobs.

2:1 Ratio

Although it is not always possible, ideally you should always make arrests using more than one officer.

It is much easier to control an arrestee with two officers than it is one-on-one. A good tactician is never in a "fair" fight. Having numbers makes it easier for you to control an arrestee and it increases the arrestee's likelihood of complying.

Arrestees are much more likely to comply if  they see they're at an immediate disadvantage. Officers who work together on a daily basis begin to learn what the other is going to do and when they are going to do it. Communication between officers and between the officers and the arrestee is essential in gaining control quickly.

Staying Upright

Many officers are proficient at various ground fighting techniques. You may be skilled in wrestling, jujitsu, judo, or other various fighting arts. However, no matter how skilled you are at ground fighting, there is an elevated threat to you once you begin rolling around on the ground with an arrestee.

When you go to the ground with an arrestee, everything you have on your belt is within reach of that arrestee. Going to the ground with an arrestee forces you to attempt to control him or her, while at the same time protecting your handgun, TASER, O.C. spray, and other tools and weapons.

If you do not have to fight someone on the ground, don't go to the ground. You will be much safer standing on two feet.

Going to the Ground

Of course, sometimes you have no choice but to go to the ground with a suspect. When you are attempting to effect an arrest and you perceive that you are not going to be able to control someone while staying on your feet, you have three options.

First, you can initiate a takedown and control the subject on the ground. This is a reasonable force option for one officer arresting one suspect or for two officers arresting one suspect. However, since it is always recommended (when possible) to have a 2:1 officer-to-suspect ratio, this becomes a better option for two officers than it does for one.

Second, you can disengage to retrieve a tool and wield it to gain control. There are several tools you can use to wield reasonable force to arrest a resistive subject who you cannot control while standing, including a baton, an electronic control device, or O.C. spray.

It is important for you to understand that there may be circumstances where it is better to disengage and retreat in order to stay safe. An officer may wish to retreat and wait for backup if the suspect is not an immediate threat to others, has not committed a severe crime, and is not likely to escape.

Writing It Down

Officers are usually justified in the amount of force they have used to effect an arrest. There are very few incidents of excessive force in the United States, considering the number of resistive subjects the police arrest daily. This being said, it is important for you to carefully document your use of force when arresting a resistive subject.

Start by thinking about what led up to the amount of force used. For example, if you felt it necessary to initiate a takedown, articulate the reasons for this. Describe how the subject was resisting, what efforts you made to control the subject, what commands you were given, what the arrestee said, what the offense was, and any other circumstances involved.

The amount of force that police officers are legally allowed to use to arrest a resistive subject was determined by Graham v. Connor (1989). According to this U.S. Supreme Court ruling, use of force is analyzed under the "objectively reasonable" standard of the Fourth Amendment.

A court looks to the "totality of the circumstances" to determine whether the manner of the arrest was reasonable. The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Remember these legal concepts justifying use of force as you write your reports.

If you are effecting an arrest of a resistive subject, it is your job to get the subject under control, get him or her handcuffed, and take him or her into custody. All reasonable officers prefer to arrest someone who complies with their requests or commands. However, if the arrestee begins to resist arrest, then you must control him or her standing, by initiating a takedown, or disengaging and getting to another tool.

Based on your training, experience, and perception at the moment of resistance, you may choose the tactics you feel are most reasonable to accomplish the goal—which is taking the arrestee into custody while staying as safe as possible.

Michael Schlosser is a retired police officer and director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute. He has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Illinois.

Tags: Defensive Tactics, Resisting Arrest, Use-of-Force Policies, Verbal Communication, Less-Lethal Force, Physical Confrontations


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

MM @ 7/5/2013 1:26 PM

Yeah and if that fails, shoot their dog

David Hay @ 12/13/2013 8:05 AM

Dr. Schlosser, very good article that is straight forward. The article reinforces officers will react the way they train, which highlights a continued need for stress induced encounters during training, which better prepares officers to deal with stress which may affect overall health post-encounter. Moreover, the article is consistent with research related to priming and depth of processing for successful memory retrieval. I will refer officers and students to the article. Thanks, David

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