When officers meet resistance during an arrest, first and foremost they should implement the principle of mass. This simply means there should be, if possible, two officers to one arrestee, thus reducing the likelihood of the latter resisting. This is crucial since resistance makes injury to officers or arrestees more likely.
The safest method of arrest is if the arrestee can be controlled and handcuffed in an upright position. However, if this is not possible then the officer is limited to the following options: taking the arrestee to the ground; disengaging and getting to another tool such as a handgun, TASER, OC spray canister, or baton; or retreating. Even if the officer is a good ground fighter, the difference between sport fighting and street fighting is the fact that once the arrestee is taken to the ground, every tool available to the officer becomes available to the arrestee.
Let's discuss the best strategy to deal with the situation where you are forced to the ground by the arrestee, who ends up in your "guard" (on top but not mounted—simply between your legs).
But before we start, it's important to note that if this is a deadly force encounter in which you feel you are in jeopardy of death or great bodily harm, it would be lawful for you to draw your handgun and fire rounds to stop the threat. However, if you remove your handgun from your holster, be aware that your assailant also has potential access to the weapon.
Your first goal once you've been taken to the ground is to get back up before the assailant is on top of you. Obviously, the quicker you can get back up on your feet, the better.
After regaining your stance, create distance and access a tool. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a handgun or a less-lethal option. It may also be reasonable for you to retrieve one of these tools while on the ground. However, there is always the concern that the assailant might end up on you and fighting for that same weapon.
There are many good tactical recovery techniques from the ground.
Don't Face Down
If you are taken down or shoved to the ground by an assailant, make every effort possible not to end up face down. You are extremely vulnerable in a face-down position, even if you are just on your hands and knees.
A face-down position makes you susceptible to an attack since you can't see the assailant. And if the assailant gets behind you, he or she can easily choke you and/or seize your weapons. This concept is sometimes difficult for officers with a wrestling background to grasp because they may automatically go to their hands and knees to build a base.
Escapes and defenses from this position do exist, but it is strongly advised not to get into this position in the first place.
Avoid the Mount
Most officers are familiar with how dangerous it can be to have an attacker take you to the ground and put his body weight atop you in a mount position. This position gives an attacker a huge advantage and potentially the ability to take control and either choke you or simply "ground and pound."
Again, escapes and defenses exist but avoid being placed in this position in the first place.
In the Guard
If you are unable to remain standing or get to your feet quickly to avoid the assailant, then the next best option is to have the assailant in your guard.
In the guard position you are on your back with the assailant on top and between your legs. This is much more advantageous than having the assailant on your back or mounted across your waist.
If you are under attack from the guard position (being choked or punched), then your first instinct should be to protect your head and neck from the attack by positioning your arms to block strikes or at least lessen their impact. You can then pull the assailant in close and use your legs to lock the assailant in place. From this position the effect of the assailant's attack is minimized.
Once the assailant is pulled tightly into your guard, it's time to go on the offensive with strikes. These strikes will likely result in the assailant wanting to pull away and get out of your grasp.
This is the time to take advantage of the assailant's force. Your attacker is trying to regain his or her posture for another attack, and this gives you options. You can retreat in order to gain distance by "shrimping away;" by placing one knee and/or shin between yourself and the assailant and kick to create distance; or by placing both knees and/or shins between yourself and the assailant and kick to create distance. You should then recover to a standing position and take necessary action.
Shrimping Away—You can take advantage of an assailant who is trying to get free. While the assailant is pulling away, you should release. Then with the assailant moving backward, you can also move backward in a "shrimping" motion.
Shrimping is a basic jujitsu technique that can be learned with a little practice. The idea is to gain distance by moving backward. The key to this movement is you should not move straight back, which would make it difficult to gain distance. Instead, turn on your side, frame up one side of the assailant's body, and slide backward in the opposite direction to the one framed. For example, place your hands on the assailant's right side, rotate so that you are on the ground on your left side, and slide backward to the right.
If you can gain enough distance then you can perform a tactical recovery and get on your feet. Then you can access another tool, depending on the circumstances.
Placing One Knee and/or Shin Between Yourself and the Assailant—If you cannot gain enough distance, then take advantage of whatever space is created then place your shin across the assailant's center mass in order to maintain the space created. This will provide some safety from the attack.
And you can use your other leg to kick the assailant. You can place your foot on the assailant's hip and, depending on the size of the assailant, may either kick him backward or push away from him. Or you may be able to attack with kicks to the center mass or face of the assailant. Again, this provides an opportunity for you to gain space for a tactical recovery.
Placing Both Knees and/or Shins Between Yourself and the Assailant—A third option involves placing both knees and/or shins across the assailant's center mass. This will provide more protection than just using one knee and/or shin.
You may also be able to grab hold of the assailant's wrists or triceps to secure them, which will likely cause the assailant to attempt to free himself by pulling back. You can then release the assailant's arms, rock back, and place both feet center mass on him. Afterward, you can kick the assailant backward, creating space for a tactical recovery. Much force and distance can be gained by using both legs to kick from this position.
One of your primary goals during any arrest is to stay on your feet. But if you are pushed, punched, or tackled, and end up on the ground, it is important to regain a standing position as quickly as possible.
If this is not possible, try to control the assailant in the guard position, using the techniques we have discussed, until you have an opportunity to escape.
The examples above did not involve deadly force threats. Remember, when facing a deadly threat, you may do anything in your power to stop the threat, including eye gouging, firing your handgun, striking, and choking.
Dr. Michael Schlosser is a retired lieutenant with the Rantoul (Ill.) Police Department, director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, and the Institute's lead control and arrest tactics instructor.
Jack McVicker is a world-renowned jujitsu practitioner and instructor. He is the owner of McVicker's Martial Arts.