We know from the anecdotal reports of police officers as well as from research studies that the majority of arrestees do not resist. It is estimated that fewer than 1% of all police–citizen contacts result in the use of force. When the police are obligated to make an arrest, more than 80% of arrests require no force. Therefore, most arrestees fall into the "cooperative subject" category at the bottom of the use-of-force continuum.
A cooperative subject can be defined as a person who is, or can be developed into, a cooperative person. The majority of arrestees comply when officers ask or tell them what they should do. Sometimes, an arrestee may cooperate because he/she is at gunpoint or officers display their TASER or OC spray. Therefore, a subject can be categorized in one of five levels: cooperative subject, passive resister subject, active resister subject, aggressive assailant, and deadly force assailant.
Compliant Unknown-Risk Arrest
Officers can become somewhat complacent when making arrests. Since the majority of arrestees comply, it is easy for officers to fall into an "assuming compliance" mindset. It is thus imperative that officers avoid such complacency, even when the arrestee complies. They should remember that there is no such thing as a low-risk arrest. Arrests that are not high-risk arrests should be considered as unknown-risk arrests.
Compliant High-Risk Arrest
Unlike compliant unknown-risk arrests, officers are more likely to be prepared for resistance during a high-risk arrest. For example, when an officer makes a high-risk traffic stop, he/she will likely follow his/her protocol and training. The officer will likely call for backup, order the subject out of the vehicle at gunpoint to a safe location, prone them out, and then control and handcuff. However, an officer may assume that once the subject has obeyed all commands in the prone position, he/she will continue to comply.
When to Initiate Contact—In compliant unknown-risk arrest situations, there is debate about when to make contact with the arrestee. Some officers always make contact before advising the person that he/she is under arrest. Some would rather advise someone that he/she is under arrest as they are approaching to make contact with the arrestee. Others always tell a subject that he/she is under arrest before approaching. However, for most officers, "circumstances dictate tactics" in a particular situation. Indeed, there is seldom an "always" or "never" in police tactics.
For example, based on the circumstances, an officer may first explain to the person he/she is under arrest and why to increase the likelihood of compliance. By contrast, grabbing the wrist of an arrestee may cause the subject to resist and question why the officer is making contact. Officers may feel they want to gain contact fairly quickly, but don't want to grab the arrestee's wrist before telling him/her why. They may choose to tell the arrestee that he/she is under arrest as they are approaching and making contact. Finally, officers may feel that the subject is a potential resister or flight risk based on the circumstances and choose to make contact first before then telling the subject that he/she is under arrest.
Prepare for Resistance—It is critical for officers to put arrestees into some type of pain-free control hold to quickly and easily control and generate pain compliance when someone begins to resist the officer. These techniques can vary, but must be able to accomplish the same goal. For example, placing the subject into a rear wrist lock, where the arrestee's arm is placed across the back and upward to the limit of his/her flexibility (and no further), and having the arrestee's hand in a position where the officer could initiate wrist manipulation, prepares the officer for resistance.
If the arrestee begins to resist, the officer can quickly and easily move the arrestee's arm across his/her back and upward beyond the normal flexibility for better control, while at the same time gaining a wrist manipulation for pain compliance. The officer then has the ability to gain compliance by telling the arrestee to "stop resisting."
Preparing for Resistance, Aggressive Behavior, or a High-Risk Situation—Officers should use their experience, knowledge, and instincts before making an arrest. They will also need to ascertain the level of risk an arrestee may present before making contact. For example, based on the nature of the call, past contact, age, size, demeanor, other potential threats in the area, proximity of bystanders, potential weapon on the subject, and so on, officers will determine whether to make the arrest in a standing position or have the arrestee prone out. If officers choose to prone out the subject, they must be prepared to enter and gain a position, before handcuffing, where they can quickly and easily gain both control and pain compliance.
When approaching a highly dangerous high-risk arrestee who is prone, it is important to ensure that the initial contact does not cause pain but offers control if necessary. In this situation, another officer is likely to provide lethal cover. You may then have the arrestee prone out with his/her arms straight out to his/her side and palms up. When an officer approaches, he/she will control the arrestee's arm with one hand at the wrist and another hand at the elbow/triceps area. If the officer applies upward pressure on the wrist and downward pressure on the elbow, he/she is prepared for control.
The initial hold should use moderate pressure. If the subject begins to resist, the officer may be able to control the subject by using greater upward and downward force, driving his/her shoulder into the ground. If there is no resistance, the officer should mount across the arrestee's back while continuing this upward/downward pressure. For the mount, officers should end up in a position where the officer has a shin across the back of the arrestee and the arrestee's arm in tight, close to the body. If the subject begins to resist at this point, the officer can drive the shoulder into the ground, while initiating a wrist manipulation for pain compliance and, of course, giving commands for the arrestee to "stop resisting."
Principle of Mass—The "principle of mass" should be met whenever possible. It is always better for two officers to initiate the arrest of one subject. Subjects are less likely to resist if they know they are outnumbered. Moreover, if the subject resists, two officers are more likely to be able to gain control. This makes it safer for both the officers and the arrestee.
The bottom line is that it is easy for officers to "assume compliance" since the vast majority of arrestees fall under the "cooperative subject" category when deciding on the use of force. However, because a compliant subject can quickly become an active resister, aggressive assailant, or even deadly force assailant, officers should always put themselves into a position where they can quickly and easily gain control and use pain compliance techniques.
Dr. Michael Schlosser is a retired lieutenant with the Rantoul (IL) Police Department, director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, and the Institute's lead control and arrest tactics instructor.
Michael "Ben" Toberman is a sergeant and K-9 officer with the Taylorville (IL) Police Department and a master arrest and control tactics instructor with the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.