Rethinking Standoffs

images-4Where is the national dialogue on the use of force by police going on?

Don’t you think it’s about time it did?

Too often, police are having to use deadly force when trying to disarm a person with knife or club in hand and who will not comply with police orders to disarm.

In a society such as ours, we say we believe in the dignity and worth of all persons and in the sanctity of human life. It would seem that if we value human life we will have this discussion. I look to police to lead it. That’s what professionals do!

There are too few “less-than-lethal” weapons in the police toolkit — instruments police can use when it is necessary to disarm or incapacitate AND preserve a life.

Instead, police are generally limited to bare-hand takedowns, baton, pressure techniques or the TASER.

I think more options can be developed. As a police officer, trainer, and leader for over three decades, I know we can be more creative in developing alternatives to the use of deadly force.

I recently found an article in the New York Times dated back to the 1970s wherein Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy said that the NYPD was developing a less-than-deadly force system of nets and poles to capture persons with knives and refused to surrender to arrest. A further search, however, revealed no reports of its use. At least Murphy was thinking of an alternative to using deadly force.

I have written about this problem before [“Dreaming in Blue,” “Is It Too Much to Expect?,” and “Showdown in Albuquerque.”]

But for today’s purpose, I am going to be so bold (and go out on a limb) and suggest a method to consider when having to disarm a person with an edged or blunt weapon without using a firearm.

It will not be easy to incorporate my suggestion and make this transition, but I think a professional police will embrace the need to be creative and test new methods.

Whether police adapt a method like this or not, I only hope it will spur some creative thought and suggestions from police practitioners and trainers.

Let me first say that the method I am proposing involves a significant amount of training to develop competency, the use of a new technology, and expertise of mental health professionals. The end result is the saving of lives.

  • The first method is for the coimages-1ntinued development of “sticky foam” technology so that it can be tactically, effectively, and easily applied by police in field situations. (See explanation HERE.)
  • The second is the use of a 6-7-foot staff (called a bo staff) by two officers working as a team. (Police officers properly trained in the basic techniques of the bo staff can easily defeat a person with edged or blunt weapons. To view a basic bo technique CLICK HERE.)
  • The two techniques (sticky foam and bo staff) in combination would be most preferable – two officers with staffs and one with a portable aerosol dispenser of “sticky foam.” (However, the bo staff method can be used without the foam).


It is interesting that “sticky foam”, sound waves, anti-traction spray, and other non-lethal methods have most recently been experimented with and considered by our nation’s military, not police.

A team of officers should be trained in using these methods coupled with a mobile mental health crisis intervention team of two trained police officers and a mental health practitioner to respond to these critical incidents which always would start with negotiation, calming the crisis, and then, if unsuccessful, approach and apprehend the individual without the use of firearms.

  • What do you think?
  • What creative and practical ideas can you suggest?







  1. Use of force is not a “cookie cutter” and “one size fits all” concept. Use of force needs to be re-examined from a National perspective. There is no National repository for use of force incidents by US police. What is more important and essential for Constitutional Policing is that police department have a force management policy – supervisory investigation of force incidents, force review boards, transparency with posting to the public annual force information. Additonally, police agencies should have an integrity task force set in place to investigate serious use of force incidents/ officer involved shootings. Police agencies should want such a process and not be mandated by law to do so. Lastly, police agencies should have strong relationships with the community they serve and especially the diverse community in a urban police setting.


    1. Absolutely! But what I am calling for here is some creative thinking from police about some way to prevent the death of disturbed persons without firearms who fail to surrender or follow police orders. I have gone out on a limb here is proposing one method for consideration… I am listening…


  2. I’m surprised we don’t do with people like we do with dangerous animals that we don’t want to injure, and shoot them with tranquilizers. Obviously it couldn’t be used in all circumstances, but it might work for some. The pole and loop tool could also work, as could the net you mentioned. The problem, of course, is that people need training to use other methods, and they need the tools with them at time of need. We could have busloads of equipment, but it won’t do any good if the incident is over before it gets there. I suspect that factor alone, time, is a big part of the equation. How much time do you have to control this person before some serious damage happens to someone? If you can isolate them, you might have as much time as you need. If you can’t, you don’t want them taking hostages, etc, while you monkey around with trying to be compassionate.


  3. Training is a big factor too. LAPD had 8,000 officers; however, as many of them pointed out in the aftermath of the South Centeral riot, they don’t have the time to train in anti-riot procedures. You are talking about pulling cops off the streets for training and the public gets mads when they find out that part of their police force was not available to head off some crime due to training. How many cops are willing to give up their vacation time, weekends, or come to work early or stay after work to participate in training?

    You have a problem of the number of cops and distance. Most police departments in America have 25 or less cops and your backup is miles or hours away from you when you are all alone particulary after 5 pm to 7:00 am particulary in the rural areas.

    I am surprise the cops have not adopted the foam device; however, you have to get up close and personal to use it and take times to cover the person up in the form.


  4. Another problem is that we don’t manadate that cops take some kind of martial art program in their community so it make them more confidence in using their batons or use their hands and feet to hit the right pressure points of the body to take down a person. In Japan, the police take Kendo classes everyday. At least they stay in shape. The problem with martial art classes is the availability to take the classes when you are doing police work in the evening or midnight shifts, plus the times and days of the classes and how competent is the instructor.

    I believe that our cops have lost the ability and the nerve to do hand to hand combat plus the inablity to back away from a situation or it is the police training and culture that you don’t back off since it would be considered a sign of weakness on the streets. A gun makes things easy to handle a situation these days.


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