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A guide to personal survival basics, Part 2: Countermeasures

By Senior Training Deputy John Williams
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
Force reduction for custody, Part 1

Star tactic (Photo/Gary Klugiewicz)

Last week, I talked about the power of body language and demeanor, and how it can reveal when an inmate is in a state of distress — and you are in danger. Today I will focus on countermeasures and defensive techniques employed if the situation escalates.

First, I need to be clear that these countermeasures are not designed to deal with passive, non-assaultive inmate resistance; we are talking about close quarters, sudden inmate assaults that need to be dealt with quickly and decisively.

These countermeasures are designed to overcome and control violent inmate assaults, i.e., when the officer is in the protective mode, protecting him/herself from imminent violence. Our countermeasures need to provide a quick, decisive tactical response to a clear and present threat.

Control and correct

Understanding your strengths and your opponent's weakness are crucial to success. There are many elaborate systems of defensive techniques involving complicated wrist locks, holds, and such. But for officers with limited practice time and physical skill, what's offered next is much more practical for situations where you are a victim of a surprise assault.

The goal of defensive countermeasures is to take back control and correct the problem immediately. Considering you're under attack and that your pepper spray or flashlight is unavailable due to time, distance, or circumstances and you have to fight back with your empty hands. The first rule of thought is to avoid fighting "fair." You will lose a fair fight. You want to use tactics that will stop the assault fast, before your energy gives out, and before you get injured or disarmed.

Defensive chair tactic (Photo/Gary Klugiewicz)

The first thing you should be aware of is that when you're in a physical fight with your empty hands, all areas of the suspect's body is open game. This means you can immediately strike at an inmate's head or other vital areas such as the groin. The carotid restraint is also an option.

You are expected to use everything at your disposal. This includes your fists, palms, open hands, elbows, fingernails, feet, knees, teeth and head. You must do whatever you can to free yourself from his assault and help you buy time and distance to get out your pepper spray, flashlight and get help.

Whatever you do, it must be done quickly and forcefully. Do not start out with a wimpy effort or spar around. Remember, you need to end the assault fast because the longer it lasts, the greater the chance you'll get hurt. No matter how hard you've been hit, you must hit back harder.

Additionally, you need to get on your radio the first chance you get. You need to get help rolling before circumstances turn against you. You should mentally practice putting out calls for assistance during your free time. Be sure not to rush your mike and avoid yelling into the microphone. Remember that you must observe a momentary pause before you speak into your mike so that your call can be understood. And finally, always know your location and how to describe where you are at all times.

Your voice

Emergency takedown (Photo/Gary Klugiewicz)
While you're trying to fight off an attacker, be sure to tell him verbally what you want him to do. Yell out loud an appropriate command for compliance such as "Stop, get down on the ground." Voice commands may help distract and overload the senses of your attacker and may help bring assistance to you.

Hand strikes
Your hands are your best defensive weapon. The clenched fist is probably the most commonly used hand weapon. Many a broken wrist has occurred by not having the fist properly clenched prior to striking. The proper way to make a fist is to roll your fingers into the palm of your hand.

The thumb should rest across your index and middle finger. When you strike with a closed fist you should hit so that the knuckles of your index and middle finger receive the majority of the blow. You should be aware that the head is made up almost entirely of hard boney areas. As such, it is best not to hit it with a fist; a much better choice is a palm-heel strike or hand slap.

As with any strike it is crucial that you follow through. Put your hips and weight into it for maximum impact; hit as if you're trying to strike a target "behind" the intended impact area. Follow-through has a far more devastating impact on your attacker than you.

Feet and leg strikes
Your legs contain the strongest muscles in the body. A foot or knee strike to the pressure point located on the outer thigh will cause even the largest inmate to fall to the ground. Specifically, this pressure point is located about six inches above the knee cap on the outer thigh muscle. This strike is best delivered when the inmate is standing upright or has most of his weight supported on the target leg.

Other vulnerable areas of the legs include the shin area and top of the foot. Both of these areas have little muscle protecting them and can cause a disorientate amount of pain when struck. Be advised that a leg strike must be sudden and brief to overcome the inherent danger of standing on only one leg.

Forearm strikes

Knee strike (Photo/Gary Klugiewicz)
If you're right in close to the subject, your forearms can be more powerful weapons than your fists, and are much less likely to break if you strike a bony area. Alternating forearm strikes are extremely effective.

Eye jabs
Besides the old-fashioned "Three Stooges" jab — which sounds easy but may in fact be difficult to deliver precisely to the small and protected areas of the eyes — one option is "the fan." Here you simply sweep your hand laterally across the suspect's eyes so that your nails and fingertips rake across his eyeballs. This inflicts considerable pain and is hard to move away from if done suddenly. Because of the potential for permanent injury, this tactic should be reserved for life-or-death conflicts.

Brachial stun
To execute this maneuver, make a tight fist. Bring your arm out about eight inches from the side of his neck and, keeping your arm rigid, swing so you whack his neck with the meaty muscle mass of your inside forearm. Aim for the point at the base of his neck, about halfway between the side and front where the cluster of nerves called the brachial plexus is located. Absent a deadly force situation, special care needs to be taken to not hit the inmate's throat, which could result in permanent injury and even death.

Groin strikes
Groin strikes can be very effective against male attackers only if you hit the genitals. More specifically, we are talking about the testicles. Too often due to the ferocity of the attack you may not be able to target the proper area. If you are on the ground with your attacker, you may consider grabbing hold of the testicles and squeezing as a defensive countermeasure.

You don't have to wait to be assaulted before you can peremptorily strike. Depending on your state of mind, you may truly believe you are about to be attacked by factors that only you can articulate. These factors may include the difference in size and physical conditioning between you and the inmate and your level of experience and training.

Defense against sudden assault (Photo/Gary Klugiewicz)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff Department's Force Policy states that we have a "positive duty" to use force reasonably and when necessary to defend ourselves or others.

You must have a "will to survive" mentality for which you need to be prepared to immediately go to deadly force in a mil-second. If he comes at you with his fists, you come at him with your flashlight and pepper spray. If he comes at you with a shank, which is a deadly force situation, you have a green light to strike repeatedly anywhere and in any manner until he stops his attack.

You need to fight back quickly, decisively and without hesitation. Be prepared to gouge his eyes out, bite off his ear — whatever it takes to stop the attack. You must use every dirty fighting technique in the book to win, and win quickly.

When cornered by an inmate with a deadly weapon, we don't want you to wrestle with your attacker; he is trying to kill you. We want you to immediately stop the attack. No pepper spray, no wazoo knife takeaways; if need be, in a deadly force situation, you strike the head repeatedly until the attack ends. Of course, once you stop his attack, you also must stop immediately and call for assistance.

The techniques and tactics outlined in this article are meant to help you anticipate, prepare, and ward off a physical attack. However, nothing can replace good physical conditioning and on going defensive tactics training. Remember an old saying, "Stay ready and you'll never have to get ready."

Be safe.


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