The Rear Wrist Lock

One excellent technique for gaining control of a resisting person that doesn't require you to take him to the ground or use a weapon is the rear wrist lock.

Photo: Michael SchlosserPhoto: Michael Schlosser

When you as a law enforcement officer are dealing with an actively resisting arrestee, your first goal is to gain control of him while remaining in a standing position. If you are unable to control the arrestee in a standing position, you have two choices: Take him to the ground (which increases the likelihood that both the arrestee and you could be injured) or disengage and select another tool such as a TASER or pepper spray.

One excellent technique for gaining control of a resisting person that doesn't require you to take him to the ground or use a weapon is the rear wrist lock.

The rear wrist lock even gives a solo officer a very good chance of taking control of a resisting person. And it's even more effective when you have backup and can use the principle of mass against the resister.

Pain Compliance

Of course, it's not always easy to get a resisting person into a rear wrist lock. And that's why it's critical that this technique be performed correctly.

Many forms of the rear wrist lock are taught, which is fine, but some basic principles must be adhered to in order to keep the subject under control. To be effective you must assume a position of control, while at the same time applying pain compliance techniques.

When making the initial contact with the suspect, the first grab is of the utmost importance. Grab the arrestee's right wrist with your right hand, or his left wrist with your left hand. Hold on firmly with your thumb placed on the inside of the wrist and your fingers on the hand side. This lets you manipulate the hand while maintaining a grip. Now pull your other hand up toward the suspect's elbow while keeping your fingers on the inside of the elbow joint.

This grip lets you manipulate the arrestee's arm behind his back. The hand at the suspect's wrist should be rotating his wrist forward, folding his hand behind his back, and with the help of the other hand bending his arm. Once the arrestee's arm is behind his back, there are some important points for maintaining control: wrist over, wrist up, elbow control, and wrist manipulation control.

The further you can pull the arrestee's arm across her back, the better. The higher on her back the arrestee's arm can go the better.

Once the arm is across the back and up, place both of your hands over the back of the arrestee's hand. To ensure control, secure the arrestee's elbow either low on your sternum or tucked into your armpit (like a football carry).

Staying On Your Feet

As with most control techniques, it is important to keep a good base when performing the rear wrist lock.

Stand with your feet apart and knees bent. This stance will help you stay on your feet, which is much safer than ending up on the ground.

In addition, keep your head against the back of the arrestee, so you can't be head-butted. When you have good control of an arrestee in a rear wrist lock, head-butting is his or her only attack option.

Make It a Habit

While the rear wrist lock is extremely effective on uncooperative arrestees, it can also be used on cooperative persons without violating their rights.

You can use it as an initial step toward placing a cooperative arrestee into cuffing position without inflicting any pain on the person. Then if he resists, his wrist can be forced behind his back.

When placing a cooperative arrestee into this position, simply force her arm into a position based on her flexibility. Don't force it so far across the back or so high that it might cause pain.

But it's easy to change this position into one that will cause the arrestee pain. If the arrestee is resisting, force her arm further across the back and higher (beyond her normal level of flexibility). When further pain compliance is needed, force the arrestee's hand toward her own forearm for wrist manipulation.

As with all arrests, it is important that you give verbal commands such as "stop resisting and place your other hand behind your back" in order to ensure the arrestee knows that in order for the pain to stop, she must stop resisting.

Once the arrestee does stop resisting, you may maintain control at the arrestee's normal level of flexibility in case the arrestee begins resisting again. You may then decide to control the rear wrist lock with one hand and place cuffs on with the free hand. Alternatively, you may choose to wait for backup if it is nearby in order not to lose control.

When two officers approach someone to make an arrest, it is important for them to communicate either verbally or non-verbally in order that they approach and make contact at the same time. Both officers can then place the arrestee into a rear wrist lock to ensure compliance prior to cuffing.

Make It Work for You

The variations of the rear wrist lock are numerous. Just be sure the variation you use is effective and you perform it correctly. For example, if the arrestee's arm is not pulled far enough across his back, he may be able to pull it out and you will lose control. If the arrestee's elbow is not secured, he may be able to escape the rear wrist lock by simply raising his elbow.

Remember, the primary points to control someone in a rear wrist lock are wrist over, wrist up, secured elbow, and wrist manipulation.

All this being said, we know that not all techniques work on everyone all of the time. If the arrestee is extremely aggressive and motivated, you may have to resort to a different technique such as a takedown or disengaging to select another tool. Likewise, if the arrestee is inflexible, then you may not be able to gain control because the arm will not go far across the back or sufficiently upward.

As with all defensive tactics techniques, it is important to practice the rear wrist lock until it is second nature. This means not only practicing specific techniques, but also practicing disengaging.

Many officers, because of their pride and their survival mindset, have a difficult time disengaging when someone is resisting. By practicing disengaging and retrieving other tools, you will be more likely to disengage when you are not able to control a resisting arrestee, which could be critical in your ability to prevail in the confrontation.

Today's law enforcement officer needs to work smarter, not harder. Practice all tactics and techniques used when encountering suspects, including handcuffing, searching, standing control holds, takedowns, ground control, ground escapes, and disengaging to select another tool until you have discovered what works best for you based on your skill level, size, flexibility, and athleticism. Once you have found your "go-to moves," spend the majority of your control tactics training time on these specific techniques.

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.

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