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Learning From Mistakes:
A Critical Evaluation of Arresting Techniques from T.V.

There are numerous shows on television which show law-enforcement in action. Some of these shows have cameras riding with local police patrols, others with county or state police, and still others with Federal. In all of these shows, at some point, we are able to witness law-enforcement securing or attempting to restrain the assailant and secure the arrest. Since the training many departments receive from all over the country varies, there is a wide array of approaches to and the actual implementation of the techniques themselves taught. Despite the variations, there are nonetheless many commonalities seen. In this article, we will look at a few of these and explain the reasoning behind our comments.

One glaring, common error made by law-enforcement is seen when they attempt to take a resisting suspect down to the ground for handcuffing. While in many cases there may be two or more officers involved, it is often a battle. This takes into account the possibility that a suspect may be drunk or high on drugs. Even if intoxicated or high, there are still principles and techniques that are not followed and applied, making the takedown and restraint a major struggle. To begin with, there is no proper controlling method applied. This means that either before the takedown or once there is actual grappling on the ground, there is no wrist lock, arm lock, or any other means of control other than strength used. Once an assailant is placed in any of the controlling locks, the officer would be able to manipulate the assailant’s direction and the movements. It is because no proper means of control is applied that the groundwork often results in a fight.

This is not to be interpreted to be an idealistic, naïve statement, which does not realize or appreciate the reality of the situations. The senior writer has been in situations of this nature from the simple to the extreme. While the street situation differs from that of the dojo and the academy, the principles and techniques may nevertheless be applied.

In not adequately controlling a suspect in the ensuing ground battle, all-too-often the officer leaves the suspect on his/her back while attempting to secure the arm and wrist for handcuffing. By leaving a suspect on his/her back, there are dangers to the officer.


To begin with, the suspect’s feet are in position to kick. The kick could be to the groin/testicle area, knee, stomach, or even the head of an officer. Additionally, with a suspect on his/her back and an officer bending or leaning over, the officer’s center of balance is off, and s/he may be pulled over and down by the suspect. Not putting a suspect on his/her stomach almost immediately sets the stage for potential danger.

Another poor and dangerous technique viewed on these shows is the moving of a suspect, even one handcuffed, from one place to another. The authors have never seen an episode where the suspect was not flat-footed and sure-footed and walked normally, even if the officer held the suspect’s arm or elbow. By remaining flat-footed and sure-footed, the suspect maintains his/her balance and center of gravity, and is able to use his/her feet aggressively. This means that the officer could suffer a broken kneecap as a result of a kick, along with follow-up kicks. Rather than avoid this potential danger by having the suspect moved in diagonal directions where the feet and legs are not in a normal balanced position, the suspect is walked in straight forward and back directions. A wiser and safer scenario would be to place the suspect in a properly applied come-along technique, and control the walk to another location where s/he can be moved into proper position for handcuffing.

Yet another problem area frequently seen is the searching of a suspect. In a past article by the senior author (see: A Tip or Two on Searching), some guidelines were presented to make searching safer for the officer. In addition to these guidelines rarely if ever seen implemented by the officer on T.V., s/he almost always leaves him/herself susceptible for an elbow blow from a variety of directions. It seems that it is during the search that the officer is most vulnerable. Even if the suspect is handcuffed while being searched, the officer is again vulnerable to knee blows and kicks.

This article is not implying that there are no good arresting techniques ever taught or applied (outside of taiho-jutsu). Rather, its purpose is to point out flaws, provable, logical, observable flaws, in a great many techniques which officers from all walks of law-enforcement life are apparently being taught nationwide. By being aware of these and hopefully correcting them, the odds for officer safety will increase.

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