Every officer either has or will at some point have to control an actively resisting arrestee by themselves. Even if backup is only 30 seconds away, it can seem like a lifetime. In the worst-case scenario, it could be several minutes before backup arrives.
Officers should never underestimate an arrestee’s ability to resist. It is challenging to handcuff a resisting arrestee regardless of his or her size and strength. However, if officers can practice some proven control holds from fundamental positions, they will be more likely to maintain control of the arrestee until backup arrives.
As the subject begins resisting arrest, it is usually an ugly and exhausting scramble. Although the officer can control an arrestee using several positions, weapon retention must be considered in each scenario. We must remember that when fighting with a struggling arrestee, there are no “tournament rules.” Officers need to realize that any weapon available to them—including handgun, TASER, pepper spray—may also be accessible to the arrestee. With practice, officers can become proficient at control techniques while backup is on the way.
An officer can control a resisting arrestee using such positions as side control, back control, and top mount control.
This article focuses on side control, a technique used to pin an opponent in wrestling as well as in jujitsu and other grappling arts. Side control is also commonly referred to as side mount. This control is one of the simplest to learn. It is also useful when during the scuffle an arrestee ends up on his or her back or the officer forces the subject onto his or her back.
Side Control Option 1
This option is initiated by the officer placing him or herself at a 90-degree angle to the arrestee, with the officer’s handgun side toward the lower body of the arrestee. The officer starts the control by going chest to chest with the arrestee, controlling the head, and applying as much pressure as possible. The officer can then wrap his or her arm closest to the arrestee’s head under the arrestee’s neck, while the other arm wraps underneath the armpit of the opposite arm.
Using the arm closest to the head, officers should apply pressure to the chin of the arrestee with their shoulder (cross-face control), forcing the arrestee to look away. The officer’s hands should then join in a palm-to-palm grip. Squeezing the arms toward the officer’s chest will apply more pressure to the arrestee’s chest and face.
The officer may also choose to sprawl with his/her leg closest to the arrestee’s head to apply more pressure. The officer’s other leg should be bent, with the knee against the arrestee.
Side Control Option 2
A second way to control an arrestee using side control involves the officer placing pressure to smash the arrestee’s diaphragm. To do this, officers should angle their body slightly, facing the arrestee at a 90-degree angle, with the officer applying pressure to the arrestee’s diaphragm.
To apply maximum pressure, it is important for the officer’s upper leg to be extended with his or her foot flat on the ground. Pressing downward with this foot planted firmly on the ground increases the pressure on the arrestee. The officer’s lower leg should ultimately be weightless.
This position also allows for the officer’s hands to be free to control and defend. The officer may choose to control the arrestee’s wrists, which works best by the officer turning the arrestee’s wrists outward and downward. Another option to assist in control and to apply more pressure involves the officer grabbing underneath the arrestee’s shoulders and pulling upward while applying downward pressure on the diaphragm.
If the arrestee frees their hands and if they are bigger and stronger than the officer, they may attempt to push the officer off. If this occurs, the officer can lean back in a swimming motion with his or her top arm, while maintaining pressure on the diaphragm and bringing his or her top arm between the arrestee’s arms, gaining an under hook with the same arm under the arrestee’s neck.
There are many variations of side control, so please reach out to experts for training and find out what works best for you. Hold on, backup is on the way.
The Aggressive Assailant
When someone resisting arrest is highly motivated to flee, they can quickly turn into an aggressive assailant.
If the officer is under attack, he/she may attack back based on the “reasonable officer standard” of Graham v. Connor. The officer may be able to maintain some control while the arrestee is striking the officer. It would then be reasonable for the officer to strike the arrestee while maintaining control.
Keeping control, the officer may choose to hammer-fist the assailant’s face or knee strike the body of the arrestee. However, the officer also has the option of disengaging and employing another tool such as a TASER, pepper spray, or a baton.
As with all resisting and attacking arrestees, it is essential for the officer to voice commands at the arrestee, including “You are under arrest,” “Stop resisting,” and “Stop fighting me.”
An arrestee might escape in certain circumstances. However, if you know the subject’s identity, he or she can always be found later. The importance of keeping control of an arrestee often depends on the seriousness of the crime and the potential for other citizens to be endangered if the arrestee flees. An important rule of thumb is that it is always better to wait for backup, if possible.
However, since this is not always possible, officers need to find a way to control and hold on until backup arrives. As discussed, there are many variations of side control as well as back control and top mount control.
Officers should seek out experts to fine-tune their skills and then practice with a resisting partner. Training in a martial arts school, specifically a jujitsu school, would be the most beneficial for officers to learn these basic techniques. Officers should wear their duty belts and a plastic non-firing training handgun during training. Practice drills should also include the training partner attempting to grab the officer’s weapon.
The more practice officers receive, the more confident they will become and the more likely they will be able to hold on somewhat safely until backup arrives.
Matthew Jokisch is the owner and coach of Fisher Family BJJ and an affiliate of Reding Martial Arts.
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.