Personal Preference Determines Tactics

These days, a growing chorus of defensive tactics instructors advocates using palm strikes instead of fist strikes. Still, the proficient pugilist will adamantly defend the fist strike as a viable force option.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Occasionally, I find myself speaking to people whose opinions I equally respect and yet they hold diametrically opposite views. Often, each is entrenched in his or her respective belief and will find few points of merit in the other's contention.

I like to think that sometimes they are just simply looking at the situation from different paradigms.

When I was younger, my uncle gave me some pointers on fighting. He said that, given my reach, I should try to keep my opponents at arm's length and rely on my jab: Conventional wisdom, but news to me.

The advice certainly served me well on those occasions when I was conscious enough to adhere to it.

Years later, I was told to avoid punching a person altogether. The act carried with it the risk of breaking a wrist or knuckle. Worse as a cop, you could split your skin on some tweaker's abscessed tooth and incur a staph infection.

These days, a growing chorus of defensive tactics instructors advocates using palm strikes instead of fist strikes. Still, the proficient pugilist will adamantly defend the fist strike as a viable force option; indeed, some say it's preferable given its potential to knock a person down and out thereby preventing a needlessly protracted scuffle.

The old saw suggests there's more than one way to skin a cat, be it with a fillet knife or a chainsaw. Picking between the two may come down to disparate factors such as time, aesthetic tastes, and one's general queasiness.

Tactical preferences may be similarly dictated. The advocate for the palm strike is probably factoring in the average officer's commitment to defensive tactics training. He may recognize that a majority of law enforcement officers probably do not have punching bags and speed bags with which to train on regularly, a legitimate concern especially if there is validity to the adage that it takes 10,000 repetitions to develop competency.

Those officers who have honed their boxing skills will wonder what all the fuss is about. I worked with one deputy whose punching power was not in question, as I recall him having knocked out at least half-a-dozen aggressors while working the streets (even then, I seem to recall his hurting his hand once doing so).

No doubt, the preference of each defensive tactics instructor is born of the best intentions. But however sagacious or sincere their wisdom, reconciling practical concepts and impractical reality can find concessions being made. And when it comes down to the officer's actions in the field, it may well come down to Officer A's choice, Officer B's choice, or something he's learned elsewhere.

But whatever tactical option you decide to employ, I hope it is one with which you feel comfortable and proficient given your physical stature, strengths, endurance, mindset, and training.

While training may not ensure the upper hand or guarantee that you won't get hurt or sued, a lack of training may well ensure your paying for your apathy.

Many law enforcement professionals believe that the Officer William Powell's 56 baton strikes on Rodney King were greater indictments of his lack of proficiency with the weapon than of his abusive nature. In any event, the repercussions of that night were far more reaching than just the injuries to Mr. King and the time served by the officers involved: At least fifty-three people were killed, thousands injured, and aggregate financial losses topped a billion dollars.

That isn't to say one's personal proficiency any one defensive tactic will mitigate all problems; in fact, some other threats may assert themselves. For example, communication can break down between officers.

For while every officer would ideally be able to work with one another and know what to expect in any given situation, that isn't always the case. This can prove problematic when an officer who's an advocate of the button hook entry bumps into another more enamored of the hi-low entry in the middle of the doorway.

Such are the reasons that you want to make sure that if your skillset doesn't complement another's, that you at least do not undermine one another.

Knowing what a fellow officer's intentions are going into a situation is paramount, especially as most law enforcement agencies train their personnel in a variety of tactics and use-of-force options. But that which is communicated and practiced in a controlled environment may show markedly less effectiveness due to the confined space you're working in or the chemical composition of the person you're trying to deal with. And God knows how many cops have been unintentionally injured at the hands of a fellow officer.

By anticipating those situations in which certain choices are to be more readily viable you'll be better able to deploy them safely and effectively.

Regardless of whoever tries to sell us on one tactic over another, we know in our hearts that we will ultimately revert to what we've trained ourselves to do. Let's just hope that we haven't allowed our apathy on such matters condition us for failure.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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