On July 16, 2004, a 22-year-old man led a southern California police officer on a foot pursuit that ended tragically when the officer cornered the man in a parking area. The officer held the man at gunpoint and ordered him to get on the ground. Instead of complying, the man lunged at the officer, prompting him to fire a shot. The result of this tragic encounter cost $357,000 in settlement, the police officer's career, and the 22-year-old's life.
This incident illustrates the crucial need for police departments to provide effective weapon retention skills to their officers-a point underscored when one looks at the FBI's annual LEOKA ("Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted") report: 20 percent of officers killed in the line of duty are killed with their own gun.
As weapon retention-or the lack thereof-is a significant cause of fatalities for police officers, as well as those they are trying to apprehend, this article is intended to help you find a practical solution for weapon retention that will help save lives and reduce departmental liability.
Much of the law enforcement training currently offered is too complex. As an alternative, I suggest that officers and their employing agencies incorporate a weapon retention training program that uses a dynamic delivery system consisting of gross motor skills and reflex training.
Dynamic Delivery System (DDS)
Any weapon retention program should share core moves inside a Dynamic Delivery System that can also be used with defensive tactics moves. The Dynamic Delivery System is comprised of two components: reflex training and gross motor skills. Together, they quicken reaction time and increase the speed and power of any move executed by a practitioner. As a result, the Dynamic Delivery System can be applied to improve techniques of any system used by the officer on the street.
Officers have far too many thing that they have to learn that require technical proficiency for them to be saddled with impractical and unnecessarily complex techniques. This is particularly true when it comes to adrenaline-enhanced situations in which threat levels often change in a split second, sometimes repeatedly.
Example: A situation starts as lethal with the bad guy going for the officer's gun; switches to less than lethal when the bad guy falls down; then reverts back to lethal once he's back up, in the fight, and again going for the officer's gun.
If the officer doesn't employ a move that effectively responds to the changing threat levels, the risk that the offender or the officer could be shot escalates, as the officer attempts to move in and out of lethal force paradigms with spur-of-the-moment inspiration...or desperation. By having a program that employs virtually the same dynamic delivery core moves in both defensive tactics and weapon retention applications, officers will not only be able to learn more quickly, but feel more confident as they adjust to changing threat levels in real encounters.
Keeping both skills in one set will at once simplify officer training and mitigate the likelihood of excessive force allegations, which often attach themselves in the aftermath of incidents such as when a bigger or more experienced street fighter assaults an officer, thereby precipitating the officer's use of lethal force.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills not only give you the ability to move from one place to another, they also serve as an emergency backup under stress. Adrenaline surges increase gross motor skills to the point where they're the only ones that function. Most of the diverted blood supply goes to the largest muscles-the stomach, the quads, and the chest-hampering dexterity and making it difficult to holster a weapon, shoot accurately, or block a punch. To compensate, officers need to incorporate preemptive adjustments in their training, emphasizing gross motor skills so that what they practice becomes easier to learn, apply, and retain.
Unfortunately, complex training defeats its very purpose: to give the officer viable use-of-force options when the bad stuff hits the rotary oscillator. Let's say you're walking down an alley sidewalk with your gun out and suddenly you see someone lunge toward you so suddenly that you don't have the time to holster your weapon, or shoot. Your only recourse is to lunge away from the person in a direction perpendicular to that they are traveling. In other words, you jump the hell out of their way. This is using gross motor skills.
The implications for our alley scenario are obvious: The officer who has historically relied on fine motor skills is more apt to shoot or holster his weapon (assuming he has the time) before dealing with the person. Worse still, the officer who's been trained with fine motor skills could freeze up.
I call this a "disconnect" because this type of training given at the academy fails when field tested. This happens because the officer is attempting to use coordination and accuracy when his body is in survival mode (a state not easily replicated during academy training). And it is this survival mode that makes gross motor skills training essential. For when his body is in survival mode, it can only deliver speed and power; it can't do anything that takes accuracy.
An effective gross motor skill-based system is one that uses the quick movement of the body and directs it toward the threat, without wasting time to block or anything else before attempting to stop the attack. Such a maneuver not only saves time, but keeps the officer from expending precious time or energy in making an extra move, thereby availing him that fraction of a second quicker response that can make the difference between life and death.
To achieve these benefits, reflex training must also be utilized.
Reflex training should always be incorporated into weapon retention training so that officers can effectively respond to sudden, unexpected attacks. It transforms your response to a sudden surprise input, like hearing a loud sound, seeing a bad guy suddenly move toward you, or feeling a sudden impact into your body. When you hear, see, or feel one or more of these sudden inputs, your body goes into an automatic response referred to as the "startle reflex." The result is a protective posture that causes your eyes to blink as your shoulders rise up, bringing your hands near your chest as you lean forward with knees bent.
Just think of the last time someone came up behind you and surprised you. While this is a normal automatic response, it is not productive with regards to defending one's self while performing police duties.
However, through minor adjustments using reflex training, it can be fine-tuned to quickly respond to any surprise threat at maximum speed. To get you pointed in the right direction, I'm including a weapon retention move based on the gross motor skills and reflex training in the dynamic delivery system that I use. The system is called Kuta and is used as a weapon retention defense for an attack when the officer has his gun out.
Space constraints dictate that I condense my reflex training down to a three-step drill: catapult, crunch, and stomp.
Step One - Catapult your arm
Explosively bring one forearm in toward the center of your chest. Do this to drive your other hand out into an open-palm strike. You could use any strike with this drill; however, use the open palm to keep it simple. And be sure to look in the direction of your target for aim.
Although the catapulting arm will move first, the goal of your striking hand is to perform a strike by the time your catapulting arm reaches the center of your chest. This forces your striking hand to move toward the threat with great speed.
Perform this move several times with each hand. Practice both sides because you can't choose which side a bad guy will attack from.
Step Two - Crunch your stomach
Repeat step one, catapulting one arm into your chest to drive your other hand into an open-palm strike. Now this time, explosively crunch your stomach, bringing your upper body weight quickly into the direction of the bad guy. This will help you apply more of your upper body weight into the bad guy, giving you greater force.
Practice catapulting one arm to drive the striking hand and the stomach crunch all as one move. Perform several repetitions off to the sides and to the front with each hand.
Step Three - Stomp your foot
Next, add to your catapult and stomach crunch by stomping your foot on the same side of your body as your hand that is making the open-palm strike. (If you are striking with your right hand, stomp with your right foot as you step toward the bad guy). This will transfer even more of your body weight into your strike.
This drill is for building speed and core movement. It will change slightly based upon the technique it's applied to.
Weapon Retention Technique
When the bad guy suddenly attacks while you have your gun out, stomp your foot nearest the bad guy and explosively crunch your stomach muscles to quickly pull your upper body toward him.
Both of your hands will stay on the gun to keep control of it as you turn toward the bad guy to form an HV (horizontal-vertical) armbar. The arm that is closest to the bad guy should be horizontal to the ground, while your other arm is vertical; both hands still on the gun.
The HV armbar is to be blasted into the bad guy's upper body to create enough space for you to respond with the option of your choice. The key to effectiveness with this or any other technique is to apply the dynamic delivery system to gain the advantage of total quickness and power.
If the officer referred to at the beginning of this article had learned a weapon retention method based on reflexes and gross motor skills, it's possible that the shooting might have been prevented.
Al Abidin has more than 25 years of self-defense experience. His book "How to Survive a Mugging" and his DVD "Extreme Combat" are available from Cutting Edge Combat. For more information go to www.hikuta.com/LEO.html.