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The “Compression Hold” in Police Tactics

The chokehold is known by many names and has many variations. It is found in many styles of wrestling, JuJutsu, Judo, Sambo, and Taiho-Jutsu. Just about every country and culture which has a native grappling art has its own version of the chokehold. For purposes of this article, the varieties of chokeholds referred to are those which cut off the blood flow to the brain by putting pressure on the side of the neck, thereby rendering the recipient unconscious. In order to distinguish this hold from those which seal the breath, I will use the term “compression hold”. It is understood that a great many police departments and law-enforcement agencies have banned the use of the chokehold, due to deaths which have resulted from its use. Not only does this leave both the officer and the department open to legal action, but places the officer in a position of having to second guess him/herself before using the technique. This hesitation could cost the officer his/her life. Despite its ban by many departments and agencies, this brief article will question the wisdom of that decision.

The compression hold is an alternative to the use of lethal force. As a result of the improper application of this technique or holding it for too long a period of time, the ban has resulted. This, however, is not a logical decision. The various batons in use by different agencies are non-lethal alternatives. Yet, we do hear of death resulting from an improper use of the baton, or an assailant having a medical condition unknown to the officer which triggered an unexpected death. The same may be said of the taser. The media has spared no effort to report each incident of death resulting from someone who was "tased". Here too, it is often a medical condition which triggered the death. More so than with the baton or the compression hold, there is no room for individual error with the taser.


An officer's excessive pressure or force does not enter into the taser's use. Yet, the taser and batons of many varieties are acceptable forms of non-lethal force.

There are additional factors to consider. MMA is all the rage these days, and part of the arsenal of MMA techniques are compression holds. Criminals of all types are familiar with these, and some have formal instruction in how best to apply them in a combative situation. Officers should not only be familiar with the application of the compression hold, but should be taught counters to defend against them first hand. Knowing how to apply a technique and defend against it if an attempt is made to apply it to the officer is an important part of police tactics. Further, an officer has a variety of kicks which s/he may use, kicks which may break knees or rupture internal organs. When his/her life is on the line, an officer can use these against an assailant. Why should this not be the case with the compression hold?

Rather than no longer authorizing the compression hold's use, a wiser solution would be to provide greater training in the application of the compression hold, to include the proper degree of pressure to be applied, how the recipient's body will react just prior to losing consciousness, and the immediate release when this occurs. There are, unfortunately, budget limitations of longer training for officers. However, it seems well worth the expense to arm an officer with another alternative to lethal force, which carries no more risk than a hardwood or metal baton or a taser. It would be a wise raising of the bar which would increase an officer's chance of survival when the situation warranted the compression hold's use.

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