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The Shield in Police Tactics

The shield has long been something very nostalgic to this author. From 1952 to 1954, a television series, "Ramar – King of the Jungle", was aired, and was a magnet to children of that era. The setting for the majority of the episodes was Africa, and nearly every episode showed native warriors with beautifully painted and designed shields. I recall clearly wanting one. A second memory takes me back to the cover of a 1968 issue of Black Belt Magazine, where a photo of young riotous protesters were facing riot police with shields. A friend of mine, who was reading over my shoulder in the high school cafeteria, saw the picture and commented that he had more respect for the rioters than the police, along with other such ramblings. I recall thinking to myself that I would surely rather be behind the shield than exposed to rocks and bricks and sticks and the possibility of a bullet.

As time passed, I very briefly studied the martial art known as Timbei. Timbei is the art of using a short sword or spear (called a rochin) along with a shield (timbei). The shield is usually made from tortoise shell, although rattan, which is extremely hard when dried, has been used as well. Today, metal is used for the shield, which is round. A problem with the harder tortoise shell was that when a large shield was needed, the tortoise shell proved to be too heavy to be practical. We need remember that the techniques used back then were combative, with the shield used to block/ deflect a weapon, and the short spear/ sword used for a lethal counter. Target areas were primarily the head, chest/stomach, knee, and ankle. Like other weapons of Okinawan origin, some say the shield began as an implement used by farmers, in this case, as a large hat for protection from the sun. The straw hat evolved into a rattan shield. Others say it was initially the lid from wok-type cookware (called kamanta). We further note that the ancient Roman army used the shield as a major tool in battle, with different formations depending on the attack, as did the Chinese army of old.

From humble beginnings, the shield is seen today used by police, principally as a tool in riot control. Along with the riot shield are the riot baton, riot helmet and ankle shields, all of which are never used alone. There must always be "lethal over watch elements in position" as a backup measure.

Riots shields come in a variety of shapes. These include rectangular with rounded corners, some tall enough to be placed on the ground and still offer head to toe protection. Most rectangular shields are between 20" and 24" x 36"-44". Another shield is rectangular with a forward concave (bowed), primarily used for handling an unruly individual, prisoner or not, in a cell or small room. This shield can trap a person against the wall easily due to the bowed front. There are also round shields, commonly with a two-foot diameter. All of these are lightweight, polycarbonate, with some having a view hole or slot. Some are bullet resistant against low velocity ammunition. Nearly all are able to protect the officer from thrown objects, shrapnel, and the splash from Molotov cocktail-type weapons. Riot shields are also produced from a transparent, high impact plastic, enabling the officer to have a full and clear view.


The shield itself is carried by two handles, allowing the officer to put the weaker arm through one handle, and grip the other handle. Some have the handles in the middle of the shield, utilizing more of the forearm for blocking and maneuvering. Taller shields have three handles enabling a firmer grip.

We see shields also used by S.W.A.T. members after a door has been battered open. Here, the first officer to enter would carry the shield. If all is clear, other team members enter and take control. In a crowd control situation, the shield not only offers protection for the officer from any projectiles thrown, but may be used to move/push the crowd back to where law-enforcement wishes them to be.

When employing a shield, the body should be erect with feet pointing straight ahead, one slightly ahead of the other, shoulder width apart. Ears, knees, and ankles should be aligned. When using the shield to block an object thrown at the officer, s/he must be aware of where the object will deflect to after it hits the blocking shield. This is part of proper training with the shield. If the shield is used to push a crowd back, there is the possibility of someone grabbing the shield to take it away or push it away. There are four general scenarios the officer may face in this case.

In the first scenario, the subject grabs the shield at the top with both hands. Here, the officer uses the support hand over the grip to push forward on the top portion of the shield, and follows up with a palm to an appropriate body area. If the bottom part of the shield is grabbed with both hands, the support hand under the grip pushes forward on the bottom of the shield. The lower part of the subject’s body is then struck. This is the same process if either the right of the left side of the shield is grabbed.

When the shield is used to trap, i.e., hold down and restrain the movements of a limb, it is generally the head or legs that are targeted. For the head, the top portion of the shield traps the head, putting the edge of the shield along the jaw line of the subject. For the leg(s), the edge of the shield winds up above the kneecap, with pressure applied downward.

Earlier, deflecting an object was mentioned, with the caution of awareness given when an object was thrown at the officer. Deflection also applies to a person pushing at the officer and his/her shield. When this occurs, the deflection is made to either the right or left, depending on where the subject is positioned and pressure applied. At the appropriate time, the officer then uses a short left or right rear taisabaki, off-balancing the subject, hopefully having him/her end up on the ground. In both cases, the shield is always facing the threat.

As may be seen, the shield, an elegant weapon, has historically been used through the ages in most useful and practical ways, and continues to be so for law-enforcement.

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