All police officers receive some type of defensive tactics training, and defensive tactics instructors stress how officers should defend themselves when attacked. That's great. You definitely need to know how to protect yourself and others when attacked. But that should be only a part of your "self-defense" training.
What about learning how to become the aggressor? That's right, you need to know how to become the attacker and let your assailant react to you.
Police officers being trained in how to attack people? "This is ludicrous," some will say. But they're absolutely wrong. Defensive tactics should transition into "offensive tactics" when appropriate. No doubt, many DT instructors show their charges how to kick, punch, elbow, or knee an assailant. That's offensive and that's great, but that's just the physical aspect of training.
There needs to be more-much more. There should also be a mindset that is taught to every officer about how to go from the defensive to the offensive. You need to know how to release the beast from within in order to survive and win. There's a time to talk and a time to fight. There are times when your nice guy Mr. Rogers community-policing personality needs to be replaced by Godzilla.
Mindset is important for any officer. The ability to change from prey to predator can save you from bodily harm or even death. When the time is right, you must know how to draw from within and understand that the will to win and survive isn't just a nice attribute, but a critical one.
Law enforcement critics may say that offensive training can turn officers into goons and thugs. That's true, if you don't know when and where to shift from the defensive mindset to the offensive mindset. You can become a bully. And that's bad. But not being able to make the shift to the offensive when you need to can turn you into a hospital patient or a corpse, and that's worse.
Further, your ethics and knowledge of criminal law will help you decide when to go into an offensive mode. Your training and experience are used as the filtering mechanism in deciding when to go offensive.
Physical skills are also needed. But that's the easy part. The tough part is to instill in yourself the will to never accept defeat under any circumstances. Sylvester Stallone's Rocky called this "The Eye of the Tiger." Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi called this "Winning." Many call it "fighting spirit," the "survival attitude," or "reaching for the warrior from within."
But whatever handle you want to hang on this mindset, police instructors better be able to impress on you that you must always have the will to fight and win.
What does taking the offensive mean? It means using anything necessary to win, when winning means the difference between walking away or being carried away. Don't get me wrong. It is important for you to learn physical fighting skills that are acceptable to your police agency and the courts. But when the issue is serious bodily injury or death, any fighting skills are acceptable, from smashing an adversary's head with a liquor bottle to biting.
Instructors, you need to teach your trainees that they have to think not only on their feet, but quite possibly on their backs. Simulation training needs to stress that you must quickly adapt to the situation that presents itself.
What happens to an officer who is unable to create or awaken the warrior spirit when scared? This officer may quickly be an ex-officer. Would you want a partner who doesn't have this spirit? Would you want a member of your family protected by this officer? Defensive skills are fine, but never neglect your offensive skills.
Ed Nowicki is a 34-year law enforcement veteran and a POLICE Advisory Board member. He currently conducts Use-of-Force Instructor Certification courses, and will be holding the "First Annual Use-of-Force Conference," April 23-26, 2003, in Chicago, Ill. For more information on the conference, visit www.ncjtc.org