The police force exists to protect and serve, not to break arms. But criminals don”t always respect the rules.
More than 20 members of the Columbus Police Department participated in hand-to-hand combat training last week at the Frank Phillips YMCA in downtown Columbus to learn what to do when a criminal refuses to be subdued.
Master Dennis McCown, chief instructor for the Columbus Karate Association, walked the cops through four hours worth of self-defense techniques. They learned to block simple strikes, how to break free from various holds, how to disarm an attacker who has a gun, and also how to end a fight with thunderous finality.
“Block down, get his arm over your shoulder. Break the elbow,” McCown instructs the class as he demonstrates methods of defending against a knife strike.
Most of the officers in the class agree they”ll never need to go as far as breaking a suspect”s elbow. The majority of scuffles they”ll encounter will involve belligerent drunks. Plus, most patrol officers carry Tasers.
“What if you can”t get to your Taser?” McCown asked.
The state-accredited seminar respects the boundaries of police work, but seeks to equip officers against worst-case scenarios. It”s the same self-defense course members of the military are required to take before deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“The military believes in 70 percent disability to qualify as a battlefield kill,” explained McCown. “Police are simply trying to restrain (suspects). This is for when somebody is trying to kill you. It”s a last-ditch effort in a life-threatening situation.”
“Legally, I don”t think we can use this,” said Fred Brown, an eight-year veteran with the CPD.
Brown is correct, Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John said, unless the situation qualifies as life-threatening. And it”s up to St. John and the internal affairs division to ensure officers know the difference.
“The first time I see you can”t tell the difference between making an arrest and killing someone, you”ve got to go,” St. John said of his officers. “This class adds another tool in their toolbox to save them in a worst-case scenario.”
The lighter side of teaching physical force came weeks ago when the department”s insurance company sent representatives to Columbus to instruct officers on proper techniques in handcuffing suspects. The techniques are designed to avoid excessive force and subsequent lawsuits.
“We”re going to teach you on Tasers. We”re going to take you to the firing range. We”re going to try everything to make you a whole officer,” said St. John.
He and McCown agree one class is not enough to sufficiently equip officers. St. John hopes to establish a rotating series of courses on various techniques, including the self-defense course, to come around once per year.
The class is serious business, but the officers in McCown”s seminar still have a good time.
Officers William Thrasher (four years with the CPD) and Lovrent Gaines (one year with the CPD) joke constantly while twisting each others” arms as they alternate breaking out of a choke hold.
“It”s pretty interesting. It”s a little like police academy,” says Gaines.
“You”ve got three primary targets — eyes, throat and groin,” McCown instructs in the background. “Grip it and rip it.”
Thomas Stoe, chief of CPD reserves, has been on the job for 17 years. He”s never encountered a situation which required such force, nor has Kelvin Lee, who has more than 12 years with the CPD.
“It”s not too often (officers engage in physical altercations). On the night shift you get into it more because of the clubs and the drunks,” said Lee.
Tabertha Hardin has been in law enforcement for five years. She”s only had to pull her gun once to control a situation.
While it”s rare, life-threatening situations do occur, she said.
In those cases, Hardin added, “Our motto is, ”Do whatever you”ve got to do to get home.”
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.