Time bombs: Preparing for surprise attacks

Practice these three techniques to ensure you maintain the edge when an offender attacks


We never truly know when an attack is going to occur. When we interact with offenders, we know the difference between someone who is going along with the program and the ticking time bomb in an orange jumpsuit. We cannot, however, predict when the bomb will go off.

Offenders hold their cards pretty close to the chest and, whether they realize it or not, they often think tactically. Offenders will make decisions based on strategy, equipment and other resources, just as we do.

They wait until the numbers are in their favor. They select their targets based on size and strength mismatches. With this in mind, it is imperative officers can either pick up on pre-attack indicators and see the attack coming, or have a prepared response for when a surprise attack does occur. I want to focus on the idea of the prepared response.

It is imperative officers can either pick up on pre-attack indicators, or have a prepared response for when a surprise attack does occur. (Photo/CorrectionsOne)
It is imperative officers can either pick up on pre-attack indicators, or have a prepared response for when a surprise attack does occur. (Photo/CorrectionsOne)

This should be an important part of your defense system. These responses should generally be gross motor movements that are protective or shielding. Most importantly, these responses should be second nature!

The individual officer must rely on themselves to drill this prepared response into their system. The key is repetition and for me, the best way to build repetitions is to incorporate these movements into everyday tasks.

I suggest three techniques and ways to add them to your way of life to ensure correctional officers have the edge over the offender.

1. Triangle footwork

For those who are not familiar, triangle footwork drills are typically used in martial arts or boxing. The idea is that by employing foot replacement techniques (often in a triangle pattern), it will keep the individual from tripping over their own feet, increase agility and increase speed. This is useful when creating or closing distance, or dodging an attack.

This can be done hundreds of times a day. I have found that I can use the technique whenever I open up a cell door. The movement does not have to be overt and you don’t have to look like a failed dance student.

If your facility has tiled flooring, picture a triangle in the squares along the path of the door. Simply and quickly shuffle your steps along that triangle. It may take a little practice, but it will become second nature.

2. Forearm “X” block

An “X” block is a technique that can be used when defending against striking attacks or edged weapon attacks. By extending your forearms in an upward crossed motion (creating and X), your forearms take the brunt of the attack and spare your more vital areas such as your face and throat. Additionally, by tucking your head down and covering, the officer can also be protected from strikes to the back of the head.

I build this technique into my workouts. When I run on the treadmill or even on the road I will count off every 15 to 30 seconds and block an imaginary attack.

Sure, onlookers may think you’re a crazy person swatting away bees but your reaction time increases significantly. Besides, to do our job we have to be a little crazy.

3. Open hand arm extension

One thing that has been proven time and time again to help officers survive confrontations is creating distance. The technique I use most often is an arm extension or shove if needed.

When escorting or encountering passive-aggressive or agitated offenders, the officer should keep their hands up above their waist to protect against potential attacks. I take it one further and typically have my non-dominate arm extended to create a barrier. I will then “talk with my hands” to make it look socially acceptable. My hand is open, as I may have to quickly transition to another technique like an open hand strike or a counter joint.

This is something I use when I encounter inmates, strangers on the street, and even my in-laws. Especially my in-laws. Not that they pose any danger, but its good to keep the habit just in case.

This skill can also help you identify the other person’s intentions. If I am at an ATM and someone contacts me, I’ll put my hands up when I talk with them. If that person invades that barrier that I’ve created, I know that is not a normal response. I can then use that (along with other factors) to articulate a potential use of force, should it be necessary.

We never really know when that bomb will go off but keeping these basic responses at the front of your mind will allow you to concentrate on more complicated force techniques, your surroundings and the attacker’s movements. If nothing else, it keeps the mind thinking tactically. 

NEXT: 5 considerations when reviewing use-of-force training and policy in your facility

This article, originally published 03/12/2013, has been updated

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