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Departments : Officer Survival

Improvised Weapons

When you’re in a tight spot and need to use self-defense, think outside of the box.

October 01, 2003  |  by Steve Albrecht


Any discussion about weapons starts with the obvious reality that at any police call or field contact, there is at least one gun already on the scene: yours. How you retain that weapon and keep prying hands off of it is critical to your survival. And if we factor in that many officers carry some type of backup gun into the field, there is a distinct possibility that two or more guns will be available to both cops and crooks in any given encounter.

It's time to think outside the box-way outside the box. Armed with your usual belt, slung with police flotsam and jetsam, you hit the field confident you have a tool, a weapon, or a device fit for all occasions. But a gun can't solve all your problems. In close-quarter fights, when the suspect is right on top of you, you need to improvise and come up with practical non-firearm weapons, besides the usual pepper spray, impact weapon, or flashlight swung blindly in the dark.

The trick to street survival is to dislodge the suspect from his current line of thinking. It's suggested in baseball that hitting is all about timing and pitching is all about disrupting that timing. For us, skin-saving success demands that we surprise our foes first by disrupting their thought processes, and then by outwitting them.

Drawing your baton or impact weapon in a fight with a suspect may be exactly what he expects you to do. Using the takeaway maneuvers he's perfected in prison, he could disarm you when you expect him to give up or comply.

But if we go back to that same pending fight scenario and, instead of drawing your baton or pepper spray, you "execute a front snap kick" at the suspect's left kneecap (thereby sending it into outer space), the fight's over. He zigs, you zag. Here's how you describe your actions in your report later: "As the suspect took a combative stance and prepared to fight me, I executed a front snap kick, aimed at his lower left leg." What you did was not what he expected you to do; that's the important point.

Years ago, a colleague stopped a guy late at night for a traffic violation. As he walked up to the car, the violator jumped out, confronted him, and said, "I'm gonna kick your ass!" Not missing a beat, the cop said, "Hey! It's a good thing I'm into that!" The violator's mouth hung open in that "Huh?" pose as his original thought process was "stopped." By the time Mr. Fighter got his wits back, he was handcuffed, frisked, and unceremoniously set on the curb. Now that, folks, is an excellent example of upsetting a crook's timing.

Expand Your Arsenal

The common thinking in police work is that the use of force is a "continuum," meaning we're not required to go through each step; we can leap ahead as necessary. As such, we're commonly taught that if the suspect uses his fists, we use our impact or chemical weapons. If he pulls a knife, we pull our gun, and so forth. While this may work, where is the "outside-the-box" thinking in most use-of-force policies?

Crooks can carry or transport zip guns, pipe bombs, stun guns, box cutters, small and large knives, daggers, blades, saps, throwing stars, pager guns, claw hammers, or steel pipes. They can use these any time during an encounter with us, without any thought to our use-of-force "rules of engagement." Free from the boundaries of polite society, they can slash and cut and chop and strike at will.

Since we can't carry a pipe wrench or a ball-peen hammer into the field, we have to find creative ways to use the other tools of our trade, namely, our brains, bodies, and the gear from our belts or duty bags.

Aim for Soft Spots

During fights and wrestling matches with suspects, cops' hands and fists can get bruised, broken, and twisted. Your elbows are tougher and, in close quarters, they work better and faster, especially when aimed at a suspect's temple, jaw, or rib cage.

In close quarters, as you struggle to gain control and you feel an unknown hand on your firearm, switch from grabbing and pulling (which is tiring, especially under stress) to a battering ram mentality. Your forehead, his nose. You can do the math there. Your report should say it all: "At that point, I felt the suspect's hands gripping my duty weapon. Fearing I would be disarmed and killed, I . . ."

CONTINUED: Improvised Weapons «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: Duty Gear, Use-of-Force Policies, Flashlights, Using Batons, Footwear


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