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Departments : The Winning Edge

Time to Get Real

Law enforcement training must improve and evolve so that officers can become more confident in their unarmed combative skills.

October 28, 2015  |  by Christophor Periatt

Photo: Christophor Periatt
Photo: Christophor Periatt

An esteemed police training colleague of mine, Sgt. Rory Miller of Chiron Training (chirontraining.com), once correctly stated, "In theory, theory and reality are the same. In reality, they are not."

The reality of close-quarter engagements is that they are some of the most dangerous situations faced by law enforcement officers. Statistics show that a majority of attacks against officers occur in close quarters during initial or first-contact situations.

The "2013 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted" report produced by the FBI records that 49,851 officers were assaulted during that year. Out of that total, 31% who were attacked with personal weapons such as hands, fists, or feet suffered injuries; 14.6% were assaulted with knives or other cutting instruments and were injured; 10.9% were attacked with firearms and injured; 27% who were attacked with other dangerous weapons were injured.

These attacks and subsequent injuries resulted primarily from three different types of incidents:

  • Disturbance calls such as family quarrels or bar fights
  • Arrests
  • Handling, transporting, and/or maintaining custody of prisoners.

These statistics show that officers must be trained often and to a level of proficiency that allows them to respond without hesitation. Which means law enforcement training and tactics must be reality based; there can be no room for theory.

Unfortunately in many police systems taught today, theory has found its way into the subject control and firearms training. Things that look good, and work on a flat range or a matted floor against a willing partner, don't always work when reality punches you in the face on the street.

Easy and Effective

Law enforcement training must be reality based and follow what I have termed the "4 E's." All law enforcement tactics must be:

  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to retain
  • Easy to recall under stress
  • Effective

If your agency or you personally are using a system that doesn't follow these simple principles, you may have an issue when you are confronted in the real world.

Perishable Skills

When officers lose confidence in the tactics they are taught, they simply won't use them. If they aren't proficient in those tactics, they will fall back on what they know and that is when they tend to use too much force and cause unnecessary injuries to themselves and to subjects.

The reasoning behind this is quite simple. Officers simply are not given the time to train to proficiency when it comes to use-of-force tactics.

Subject control and firearms skills must be practiced to the point that they become second nature. Unfortunately, agencies rarely have enough time or resources to train their officers to that level.

Use-of-force skills are perishable, plain and simple. If you do not train you will never remember what to do in a moment of crisis. Studies vary, but we all forget what we have learned over a period of time. Some studies show that within a day after training many of us forget 40% of what we have learned. If you do not consistently train in your firearms and fighting skills, it will be impossible for you to recall them fast enough to overcome your opponent's OODA loop and prevail.

What I normally see is officers hanging on and dancing with suspects until help arrives, simply because they don't know what else to do. The other side to that is officers who attempt to out-muscle the suspect and end up applying too much force and hurting the perpetrator.

Three Principles

So how do we overcome this deficiency in our training programs? When confronted with an actively aggressive suspect, we apply the three principles of combatives that my friend and teacher Nir Maman from CT707 (www.CT707.com) instructs in his Krav Maga courses. Distract the suspect's thought process, inflict pain, and disrupt balance. We need to learn how to accomplish these goals in a confrontation in order to prevail.

We have to distract the suspect's cognitive thought process, resetting his or her OODA loop. We do this by inflicting pain to a point when he has stopped attacking or we can successfully disrupt his balance to take him into custody. Now disrupting his balance can be done non-lethally or lethally. If the suspect can change the situation from an active aggressive type of attack to a deadly force attack, we must shift gears and respond accordingly.

As with everything I teach, there is a way to do it, and a way not to do it. There are so many good systems out there that teach officers solid fighting skills, including Krav Maga, Lt. Kevin Dillon's L.O.C.K.U.P. system (www.policecombat.com), and Tony Blauer's SPEAR system (www.tonyblauer.com), among others.

Teaching officers a solid foundation of fighting skills that follow the 4 E's is essential. Unfortunately, many officers will not train on their own time. So agencies must seek out and regularly throughout the year teach those systems that will give their officers the skills to defend and counter the attack.

Agencies must continually teach a basic set of skills that include, but are not limited to:

  • Striking (both upper and lower body)
  • Counters and defenses 
  • Control holds
  • Takedowns
  • Ground combatives
  • Weapon retention and disarms
  • Knife and impact weapon defense 
  • Handcuffing

They must do this frequently throughout the year. And once the officers have met a level of proficiency and understanding they must then ramp up the stress, not to the point of injury, but to get the officer to a point where he or she can react and think under stressful situations. Unfortunately for the administrators out there this cannot be accomplished in a once-a-year training session.

Striking Back

Officers must learn that in a close-quarter engagement when a suspect attacks, the natural instinct is to back up, but retreating may not be a viable option. The team at the Force Science Institute (www.forcescience.org) has demonstrated that a suspect moving forward does so far faster than an officer can move rearward. We have seen time and time again that moving rapidly backward can have an undesirable outcome. You can easily find yourself on the ground.

By exploding forward and attacking in order to reset your assailant's OODA loop, you can get him on the defense and drive him onto his heels. That can be a far more viable option than retreating from the attack, and it is far more likely to give you the desired outcome.

If you are attacked and the goal of your attacker is to hurt or kill you, you can legally respond immediately with as much intensity and physical force—including deadly force—as is reasonable to protect yourself, given the totality of the circumstances (Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)).

But to properly protect yourself you must learn how to effectively strike a suspect and the best areas to strike him. Knowing what the body of your attacker will do when you apply force is key to a successful outcome. Knowing how and where to strike properly is extremely important. For example, if you're not a closed fist fan, then practice palm heel and hammer fist strikes. I have watched many of retired MMA fighter Bas Rutten's matches and training videos at www.basrutten.com, and he uses palm heel striking extremely effectively and still believes it is a viable tactic today. Close-quarter striking using elbows and knees can also be devastating to a suspect who is actively trying to hurt you.

Many weapon retention systems out there are also, sadly, based on theory and simply dangerous to officers' safety. If someone grabs your gun you should never, ever lower your force level; you must realize this individual is trying to take your firearm and kill you, and you must immediately counterattack. Train to attack that person's vital areas such as eyes, throat, and groin, or access your edged weapon and use it until that person releases his or her grip and you can regain control and take him or her into custody.

Also, know your holster and realize what it can and cannot do. I have met so many officers who don't even know the retention level of their holsters. This is totally unacceptable, as you should know your gear.

Shared Responsibility

Law enforcement training and tactics must improve and evolve so that officers can become more confident in their unarmed combative skills, instead of automatically going to their firearms because their toolbox is empty.

It is the job of law enforcement trainers to prepare our officers to meet the violent challenges they will face on the street. Trainers need to seek out the effective combat systems and become proficient in them. Proficiency is the key and should be the goal of both trainers and end users.

Train for reality. You will be further ahead and have a far greater chance of prevailing in the fight. Far, far too many of the officers I see in this country are poorly trained when it comes to use-of-force tactics. The willingness of agencies to "accept" the minimum and continue on with this false sense of security in their officers' abilities to defend themselves has reached the point of dangerous insanity. Administrators out there, please listen: Once- or twice-a-year defensive tactics and or firearms training is not enough. Your people must be trained to a level of proficiency that properly prepares them for the encounters they will face on the street. That means monthly training in use of force, not annual, as is the case is so many agencies.

To disrupt your attacker's OODA loop, you need to inflict pain such as with a side kick to his knee.
To disrupt your attacker's OODA loop, you need to inflict pain such as with a side kick to his knee.

Now, individual officers, you know that your agencies are not going to pull you off the line to train you monthly in use-of-force skills. Which means you need to do it yourselves.

You are responsible for your safety and training. If your agency refuses to properly train you, then pay the money, find a local training studio, and get the training. I train throughout the week, and yes it costs money, and yes it requires me to travel and take time out of my busy schedule, but my life is worth it.

Relying on your academy training, or worse yet your gear, to save your life in that moment of crisis is a foolish and potentially fatal mistake. You need to have the integrity and intestinal fortitude to go out and get that training you need to stay proficient in your skill sets.

Find a system that teaches what I have listed above: proper striking technique for both the upper and lower body of the subject, takedowns, ground defense, weapon retention, counters, and defense to strikes, control holds, and stick and knife defense.

You may want to advise your instructor that you are a LEO and have him or her include that in your training regimen. Training in spontaneous attacks that come from multiple directions and multiple opponents can improve your reaction time and allow you to work at a comfortable level under stress. Being able to think and respond correctly under stress is the key. When you cannot think and start to panic, that's when you find yourself getting into trouble.

The key is training for reality and not what looks cool on the mats. Reality is a bad place that none of us want to go, but we must accept that we will go there. The key is to realize and accept this fact and properly prepare ourselves to respond accordingly and prevail in that fight.

Christophor Periatt is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement and has worked patrol, traffic, warrant/fugitive recovery, SWAT, and K-9 operations. Periatt served more than six years in the U.S. Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve. He is the owner and lead instructor of Critical Training Group LLC (www.critical-training-group.com) and can be contacted at [email protected]


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