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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

Grab a Pen and Notepad

During field interview stops, many officers jot down a suspect's information on their notepads and transfer it to the "official" FI slip later. But in using this method, they miss a chance to use an improvised weapon: their hard-edged, leather- or Kevlar-covered ticket book. Keeping your FI slips in your ticket book gives you the chance to block, strike, or jab with it. Good targets include the suspect's throat, temple, and nose. Or if he is reaching for a weapon, bring the ticket book down hard across his wrists or hands.

During a traffic accident report or a crime case report, you may have your metal report box already in hand. Like your ticket book, it's an effective blocking or striking weapon, or as a last resort, a thrown-in-his-face distraction device to buy you some unholstering time.

Think about what you're holding in your hand during nearly any enforcement activity: your pen. It's one of the fastest-drawn weapons at your disposal. To say it makes for a good defensive weapon is an understatement. In a life-threatening encounter, aim for the suspect's eyes and finish the fight. A crook would do it to you if he could.

Radio Control

In these days of the $1,500 electric brick strapped to your belt (a.k.a. your radio), too many officers have picked up bad habits when it comes to their portable use. One bad habit is carrying or transmitting with the radio in your gun hand. Another bad habit is looking at the radio instead of the crook as you speak. If you don't have a lapel mike, focus on holding your radio at eye level and in your non-gun hand, looking at the suspect, not the speaker mesh. If you need to use this hard object, you want it in your dominant hand-and you want to see an attack coming.

Choose your target wisely (not body mass or well-muscled areas) and hammer away with this two-pound impact weapon when necessary. "He kept his radio in good working order" is not a good quote for your tombstone.

Give 'Em the Boot

There is often an equipment paradox with police boots. In days of old, we wore hard-toed shoes, which were lousy for running but great for striking suspects' shinbones, kneecaps, or other hard and soft parts of their bodies if they hit the ground near you. Today's police boots are soft-toed and light as a feather, which makes them great for foot pursuits, but not so great for foot strikes.

Instead of a hard kick, consider using the edges of your boots to scrape down along the suspect's shins. Light boots also make it easier to lift your leg to hit the nerves in the suspect's upper outer thigh with multiple knee strikes.

Swing Low

With most kicks or impact weapon strikes, the song playing in your head should be, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." In the heat of the moment, it's easy to swing from an upright position and hit buffed-out shoulders, meaty biceps, or squat-hardened thighs. Aim low and strike the Achilles' tendon, the back of the knee, the shin, or the calf. Lots of "yoked up" convicts have scrawny legs. Don't waste your energy on big targets. Hit low, and then keep going.

There are two keys to using improvised weapons in the field: Be ready to explicitly clarify in your report that you took "reasonable" steps, following your use-of-force model, to save yourself from great bodily injury or death. And think outside the box, away from the always-bladed field interview stance, the carefully swung baton, or the accurately aimed pepper spray. These usual ways don't always work when faced with a fighter bent on hurting you at all costs. Faced with the stress of survival, follow the advice of Baltimore baseballer Wee Willie Keeler and "Hit 'em where they ain't [looking]."

Steve Albrecht retired after 15 years with the San Diego (Calif.) Police Department, where he had worked as a fulltime officer, reserve sergeant, and Domestic Violence Unit investigator. His most recent book, "Surviving Street Patrol," is available from Paladin Press.

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