An Error in Police Training

Looking into the future, the number of fatal shootings of citizens by police (which have remained steady since Ferguson) must be

A recent post in the well-written criminal justice newsletter, The Marshall Project, expressed a concern I have since my early days in policing.

When I began serving as a police officer, I could not understand why all of my colleagues did not engage in at least one martial art — preferably Asian.

So, over the years, I taught defensive tactics to recruits and urged senior officers to start practicing a martial art. Year after year, I knew we were not spending enough time training our officers in the art of physical control. Again and again, the focus was on firearms proficiency. It is not surprising that we have so many deadly shootings of citizens by police.

Looking into the future, the number of fatal shootings of citizens by police (which have remained steady since Ferguson) must be reduced if we are to field an effective and trusted police service in America.

I have been a practitioner of one of more martial arts since my high schools days which included wrestling and Judo. I always knew it helped my policing because it helped keep me calm and control my anxiety in situations wherein I might have to physically arrest someone.

My martial arts training conditioned me to be comfortable in grappling situations. (I always carried a baton that I felt comfortable in using if the situation warranted it. In my days, we taught that a baton was the best tool when confronted a suspect with a knife — not our sidearm!

When electrically controlled devices (ECDs); the Taser, came along, I sensed that too many of my fellow officers came to the conclusion that personal physical control was no longer necessary — when resistance presented itself all you had to do was “zap ‘em and cuff ‘em.”

With the seeming growth in police-related killings and social media, many citizens are wondering just why suspects are being shot in many of these encounters that have been captured on smart phone videos.

Nowadays, we all know that’s not the case — Tasers don’t always work, you miss the target, clothing and drugs get in the way.

How much training does an officer in America get after recruit school in the proper physical control of a suspect? How many times do they have an in-service training experience grappling width another person? In most departments, the answer is just about “nil!”

I have a short answer to this complicated problem of using physical and deadly force: FEAR. One doesn’t have to be a psychologist to observe the fear that seems present in deadly police encounters; how officers are quick to use deadly force to control a situation or person they believe at the moment is dangerous to them.

If Americans are going to see an improvement in the behavior of their police they are going to have to demand their police officers are well-trained far and above the current requirements. In addition to more “hands-on” defensive and control tactics in recruit school, this must also be carried on into in-service training. And then there is this matter of “attitude.”

Before this is even attempted, police officers need to be recruited, selected and trained with the requirement and expectation that they will, in fact, have the mindset — attitude — of “guardians” (and not “warriors”). If we are ever to have true community-oriented, trusted police officers, this must be part of the plan.

[The author was a champion Olympic-style wrestler and holds expert ratings in Judo, Karate, and Kendo. He continues today in Japanese sword practice according in the tradition of Katori Shinto Ryu.]


  1. Too much time is spent putting fear in the officers that they will die on the streets. Many of the officers came from the military and didn’t complain about getting shot in Iraq and Afghanistan because they knew that it is part of the job, so why they are making a big issue of it when they become police officers?


  2. Lawerence Kane, author of the book Surviving Armed Assaults: A Martial Artists Guide to Weapons, Street Violence, and Countervailing Force, was a Portland cop and a martial art expert gave his review of the police book on Amazon books that the police book if you would like to take a look at it.


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