I’m not a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). This perspective is based on my limited knowledge about the situations LEOs and similar find themselves in and the training I have done. Your experiences may vary. There are individuals who are far more qualified to speak to this subject than myself, so if interested I’d advise reaching out to them.
It has become a popular topic as of late about if LEOs should be required to train in grappling (especially BJJ). What follows is a discussion around the considerations of circumstance for LEOs working in the United States, the cost of training, and an understanding of the limitations.
Escalation of Force
I’m going to forget the exact terminology, but when I did Waboku ryu jujitsu we explicitly discussed the spectrum of responses to a situation. There was a handy phrase for it that escapes me. The long and short of it is that you limit your force to what’s necessary and you remember the goal is to get out of there safely. It’s important to remember that LEOs in similar situations do not have that same options, so things change. Where it’s appropriate for you to find the exit and get out of there, a LEO may not have that option.
Step 0 is to avoid being in that situation. Avoid the bad neighborhood. Don’t talk shit to the guy just because you’re drunk (or avoid getting that drunk if you’re naturally an asshole when inebriated). This doesn’t really apply for LEOs in the same way. You can’t just not respond to a call because there’s a chance you’ll get hurt.
Step 1 was always to deescalate the situation. That is, if you can talk your way out you don’t need to fight. If someone just wants your wallet, give it to them. Everything in it is replaceable. If someone is yelling at you about how they’re going to kick your ass for spilling their drink, apologize and offer to buy them a new one. It’s better to be out $5 than to try explaining to a cop why you were in a fist fight (even if you win it’s got bad consequences).
Step 2 was to try to control without having to inflict pain. There are a variety of techniques to restrain someone which are uncomfortable, but aren’t going to bruise them or cause a ton of pain. Think of being pinned – it sucks, but you’re not going to come up from it with an injury and it doesn’t hurt the same way being punched does. Having said that, you probably don’t want to be on the ground in a scramble in these situations, so focusing on restraining techniques that happen standing or where uke is face-down on the ground (prone) and you’re on your feet or knees is better. Think of the classic hammerlock – they’re facing away from you, you have their arm controlled. The Bouncer’s Come-Along and the Devil’s Handshake are another couple of personal favorites of mine. Being a good bouncer in the United States generally means mastering Steps 1 and 2. If you can convince a patron to calm down and leave you don’t need to do anything else. If you can’t convince them to leave, escorting them out without harming them means you’re unlikely to have a lot of trouble when the police arrive.
From there we’re really talking about pain > wound > maim > kill. For example, it’s better to apply the pain-compliance portion of a joint lock, only if you need to do you fully attack the joint, and if you unfortunately have to you do extra (potentially permanent) damage with it. It’s great in theory, and if you’re trained well enough and can maintain the dominant position at any level it’s the right thing to do in practice. The problem is that if at any point you end up in a disadvantageous situation, it can escalate quickly.
Police officers have a spectrum of non-lethal options as a response to this. Tasers and pepper spray are typical examples of tools police have which can incapacitate an individual without the same damage as striking them (especially striking them with a baton) and certainly less damage than shooting them.
Including a discussion about the escalation of force is important for self-defense situations where you can easily change from victim to assailant. However, it’s even more important for law enforcement officers, who may be best serviced by verbal deescalation. Very few BJJ gyms (none that I have been to) seem to discuss this spectrum, and even fewer are likely equipped to discuss the additional options available to police officers including when and how to use them. The ability to finish a joint lock or choke in response to a situation is typically taken for granted. This is similar to the assumption in judo as a martial art that you can just throw someone onto their neck and not have to worry about the situation any more. What we teach civilians may be applied to certain police scenarios, but not nearly as broadly since a police officer will be in these situations more often and needs to exercise more discretion than we expect of private citizens.
The Presence of a Weapon
When we hear the word “unarmed” we often misinterpret this to mean that there was no weapon involved. When you’re in closed quarters situation like a grapple it’s important to remember that everything on your person can be within the other person’s grasp in an instant. Likewise, something may be made out of your grasp.
To understand this, think about the drill to take the back from bottom half. You secure an underhook, use your body to prevent them from whizzering and come up on the side. You could easily grab their belt on this controlled side, but you’re preventing them from being able to reach that side of their belt at all.
Having a weapon on your person in a scramble means that there’s a weapon that’s potentially available to both parties, and if you lose any degree of control, you will likely need to take an action that prevents the other individual from getting that weapon. Their being initially unarmed does not influence their access or ability to use a weapon in this situation. The consequence of not being able to control the distance is no longer that they may hit you, it’s that they can reach your weapon; a situation which escalates us from a simple scramble to life-threatening. While you may know your level of apprehensiveness in using the weapon, you generally cannot know what the other individual will do if they get their hands on it so you must assume the worst. Getting out safely means preventing them from getting that weapon, up to and including using it if necessary.
Since LEOs in the United States almost universally have firearms, it’s important to recognize the danger of a scramble and why in these situations are so difficult to control and deescalate. Options such as pepper spray and tasers may also not be practical or effective at close range.
The Cost of Training
I’m a big fan of grappling schools of any art offering free training for active duty LEO and military. In my opinion it should be standard. Training public servants to be better able to serve the public is itself a public service. Regardless of if training a grappling art should be required for LEOs, if you want to encourage it you should give them a discount to help make it practical for them to do. For gyms which are largely comprised of LEOs though, this may be a problem. You’ve got to keep the lights on no matter how big or small your gym is, and for someone who’s doing this full-time, they need to eat.
If we’re discussing training as a requirement though, what we’re talking about is needing it to be a part of a LEO’s normal duties. It is my recommendation that an individual looking to improve their skills train at least 4 hours per week, while an individual looking simply to maintain their skills train at least 2 hours per week. I will be using 4 hours as an assumed amount for the figures below.
Model 1 – Compensated Time/Travel
The first model is that the police officer should find a verified academy on their own. The time they spend training, as well as the time to travel to and from the academy, should be compensated as though they were on duty since they are fulfilling a requirement of their job in this case. For a larger city with multiple BJJ gyms (Madison is soon to have 9 I understand), this is pretty much just the 4 hours plus the cost of classes. In a small midwestern town, the nearest place may be a 2-3 hour drive. To minimize this, you’d want to have fewer, longer training sessions to meet the minimum hours. However, that’s still 8-10 hours of paid time for an officer to get their 4 hours of training. It we assume a 45 hour week, this means somewhere between an 8-22% loss of time, which means we’ll likely need 8-22% more officers to cover that time. (Consider 4 officers doing the 8 hours per week with travel – to keep them at 45 hours would require we cover 36 more hours of police time, so another officer, a 25% increase in cost)
Model 2 – On-site Training
In cases where the travel is the limiting factor, it may actually be cheaper to bring an expert out a predetermined number of times per week (or hire them to explicitly provide training at the police station). This still requires a space with mats which is a moderate up-front cost, and depending on the skill you’re requiring of the instructor may be costly unto itself. Still, if you can balance the cost of travel against this or find someone who can volunteer some time it may be a good option. As we’ll discuss below, experts are expensive. Since each will require only one expert the cost can be limited, and we’re only looking at an 8% decrease in police time (plus the cost of the instructor and the mat space) for the cost. Still, for a podunk town to bring in an instructor, it may be expensive.
Model 3 – Required Training Upfront
If you’ve never been to a class that consists entirely of higher level belts (purple and up), it’s kind of a fascinating experience. Everyone knows what they’re doing already so they’re able to help train each other. I love this situation because each other purple, brown, or black belt has their tips to share with you, but it’s all about just repping it out and rolling since you (very likely) already know the technique. Having all police officers be a minimum grade in a system that teaches a certain amount (including probably an entrance exam with a physical aptitude test for the required skills) would let them continue to train each other. This eliminates the cost of bringing someone in or having to have them travel. You may still need mat space, but a few hundred dollars for mats and finding some space is a much lower cost than maintaining gym payments. This also lets us drop from improving to maintaining – where an individual can be required to do 2 hours per week that you pay them for, but whatever else they do above and beyond that is on them (unpaid).
This has a different cost though – if your pool of advanced grapplers isn’t sufficiently large, each individual officer becomes expensive. Essentially, you’re hiring for a specialized skill set which means those individuals are more likely to demand a higher wage. Given that many purple belts already have stable jobs in other fields, we’d need being a LEO to be as attractive (or more attractive, you know, due to the risk of death) than other things grapplers could be doing as well. I’m not sure many communities could support wages for a public servant that rival the private sector, but if your requirement for the job entails 4+ years of grappling you’re realistically looking at the wages individuals with specialized degrees (like engineers) command. Looking at PayScale, that’s around $49k for a LEO currently going to around $67k for a mechanical engineer. Look at MTU’s figures if you want to find a higher/lower paid type of engineering (spoiler – most are at or near 6 figures when we talk about average wages as opposed to starting wages). I don’t think many agrarian communities could afford 6-figures per year per officer. Even using the more modest figure, it’s still around a 36% increase – a substantial figure for officers. I’m sure the actual numbers could be lower since many people go into police work because they want to help people, but if you’re requiring up-front knowledge beyond the relatively affordable academy, your pool of applicants is much smaller. There’s a reason most police departments don’t require a 4-year degree in criminal justice or similar – it’s the cost.
Regardless of what model we’re using, it’s costly. Time training is time not doing other police work. Time training costs money. Training upfront is typically justified by the compensation for the skill set by the career (engineering, medicine, law). What’s worse is that the cost may be even higher in agrarian areas where it may be even less affordable; not to mention the lower crime rates and nature of crime in these areas calling into question how necessary these skills are for an agrarian officer in comparison to an officer in an urban area.
Encouraging training of LEOs is good, but I think requiring it may cost more than we’re really willing to bear in taxes.
Let’s assume an ideal world where there’s a way to have all officers have a more reasonable degree of grappling training. This training only covers the situations in which they’re restraining an individual. Deescalation, use of their unique tools, and addressing the issue of grappling with the gun being present are not typically covered by BJJ. Even in a curriculum which does address these, training is only a mitigating factor. It can help by adding more tools towards the middle of the spectrum, but the highest end remains the same and lethal force is an uncomfortable reality. Short of the universal elimination of firearms, I don’t see a route where this is resolvable, only mitigable. I am in favor of mitigation, but we need to be careful about over-promising what grappling can do. A reduction in the loss of life is good, but we do not have a silver bullet in grappling.
If you’re in an area where there are sufficient instructors and the population can reasonably afford the cost through taxes, a local requirement that officers pursue ongoing grappling training may be reasonable. Providing some limited amount of initial training may be a more affordable option for locations that cannot afford the cost of ongoing training, but can afford something more than what’s already available.
Regardless of your area, providing free/discounted training to LEOs may be reasonable for your gym and encourages more LEOs to get this advanced training. I will always recommend this to the extent reasonable because it makes sense.
If you’re working with LEOs try to incorporate appropriate techniques. Joint locking with batons, grappling which focuses on uke being face-down (think the classic hammerlock), joint locks that are also come-alongs, discussing verbal deescalation tactics, and understanding the special needs of range control due to the presence of a weapon should all be covered to some extent. A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The other stuff – standing from being knocked down, the guard, controlling mount – they’re all awesome, but they should be secondary. Really, what I’m trying to say is that I think Waboku ryu jujitsu is a better option than BJJ for LEOs and similar.