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Neck restraints: A better option for corrections

There are both medical and legal facts that show why the carotid neck restraint is a critical technique


In the last five years, there has been significant public and media pressure to stop the use of carotid neck restraints. Since the Eric Garner case in 2014 where the phrase "I can’t breathe" became an anti-law enforcement mantra, the public has seen the carotid neck restraint as a life-taking weapon of police brutality. However, there are both medical and legal facts that show why the carotid neck restraint is a critical technique not only for law enforcement, but perhaps even more so for corrections.

Neck restraints have been a key part in several martial arts systems, including judo and jujitsu. These techniques were used for many years prior to being adopted by law enforcement. Use of force options for law enforcement were limited in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Essentially officers had a firearm and an impact weapon (baton or sap). They did not have conductive energy weapons or pepper spray. In 1970, the Kansas City (Missouri) Police Department developed and began using the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint. This system is comprised of one neck restraint with several different entries or way to get to the restraint. The LVNR has become synonymous with law enforcement neck restraints across the country.

Not a ‘chokehold’

Carotid neck restraints are often referred to as "chokeholds." This can not only be harmful for public perception but it is factually inaccurate. The carotid neck restraint works because it restricts blood flow to and from the brain to the heart. After several seconds, it can render the subject unconscious. The carotid arteries are compressed when the officer encircles the subject’s neck and applies pressure with the bicep and forearm.

Additionally, when the officer’s elbow is in line with the subject’s trachea, forward pressure is created by the officer’s head, hand or opposite forearm. This ensures that the subject’s airway is not restricted. The way this technique is applied delineates it from a "chokehold" for the very reason that the subject never loses the ability to breathe.

The Canadian Police Research Centre study

In 2007, the Canadian Police Research Centre conducted a study titled "TR-03-2007 National Study on Neck Restraints in Policing." This study consisted of 24 police officers (21 males, three females) who were monitored in various ways while neck pressure was applied using "flat, fluid-filled balloon transducers." The study found that while no force tool or technique is without risk "there is no medical reason to routinely expect grievous bodily harm or death following the correct application of the vascular neck restraint in the general population by professional police officers with standardized training and technique."

This study does not support many agency policies that have identified this neck restraint as a lethal force tool. The reality is just the opposite. In another study by the Canadian Police Research Centre, researchers looked at injuries from five major force options. These options included: empty-handed control techniques; baton; OC spray; conducted energy weapons and the LVNR.

The study concluded that behind OC spray "The second safest force mode for suspects proved to be the lateral vascular neck restraint. Used in 3 percent of force-related arrests, the LVNR left more than half (52.9 percent) of offenders uninjured. About 41 percent sustained minor injuries and less than 6 percent required minor outpatient treatment. There were no hospitalizations and no fatalities." This study showed that the LVNR was safer than batons, CEWs and empty-handed control techniques.

Intermediate force and neck restraints

In the 9th Circuit Court, as well as many others, neck restraints are classified as an intermediate force option. It is in company with CEWs, batons, K-9 applications and OC spray. When justifying the use of an intermediate force option the officer needs to perceive two things from the offender: an immediate threat and an active level of resistance. While keeping that in mind, encountering an intermediate force situation, the other options may be impractical.

CEW targeting limitations may force an officer to go outside the training guidelines if effective at all. OC is great tool, but I’ve always said that it is about 50 percent effective on the offender and 100 percent effective on the officer. Batons also run the risk of targeting issues and create a retention issue. Depending on a department’s budget, issuing CEWs, batons, K-9s or even OC may not be possible, but the one intermediate force technique that an officer can always have with them is a carotid neck restraint. Watch this video and see if you think applying a neck restraint could have resulted in a safer outcome.

LVNR training and standardization

Along with any of these other force options, training and refresher training is crucial. Training objectives as well as performance benchmarks must be implemented to ensure that the end user is applying this technique correctly. Additionally, a review process and policies need to be followed.

With any skill, it takes time to implement. Corrections officers need options when involved in a use-of-force situation. Neck restraints require no equipment to buy and it is something you always have with you. Neck restraints are a safe, effective and valuable tool for our brothers and sisters inside the walls.

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