Its not like the movies…..

Public Perception of Police Use of Force

If you’re like me you occasionally read below the line when you see on of those ‘police brutality’ videos posted online on news websites. It’s foolish I know and I shouldn’t be shocked at the level of public ignorance when it comes to police use of force.

I mean why should they understand right? They’ve never had to restrain a 16 year old, 14 stone ‘child’ who is punching, spitting and biting. They haven’t had to handcuff a 10 stone young woman who has decided she wishes to actively resist and kick out at officers with the stiletto heels she happens to be wearing at the time of her arrest.

I’m presently writing a blog on use of force training and programming but it struck me that there are a number of things I do wish the general public knew about the nature of use of force. So here are some of the home truths I think the public should know. I’m sure you can add to these with your own experiences.

We’re not Jackie Chan. I regularly read comments along the lines of ‘police are trained to deal with this stuff, these officers are out-of-order’ etc. Most of the public probably don’t realise that any technique the officers are trying to employ was taught to them for a matter of minutes in initial training and which, apart from actually applying it live occasionally, they revise once a year for again, a matter of minutes. Want officers to have ‘more training’? Increase the precept to generate enough frontline officers for a regular training shift.

It takes more than a couple of us. This is one of my favourites. “Look at that! 6 officers on that one small guy! That’s over the top!’. Lets be perfectly clear. The more officers involved, generally the safer the arrest / use of force. Controlling someone who does not want to be controlled is tough. No matter what the size or shape, anyone can resist effectively if enough leverage and control are not applied to limbs and other body weapons such as the head. It is SAFER for both the subject and the officers if we have sufficient cops to control all of the subject’s body weapons. Leading on from this:

It’s not meant to be a ‘fair fight’! “Look how many cops are on that guy! That’s unfair!’. I’m sorry but it’s not meant to be. In fact the public, if they really think about it, doesn’t WANT it to be. They don’t WANT cops to ‘lose’ these confrontations. To do so means that the violent suspect cops are trying to restrain is free to continue to hurt others, destroy property, abuse vulnerable members of the public or drive their car drunk.

Rapid overwhelming use of force ‘now’ negates injury. I used to work with a couple of Dutch cops and whilst being as liberal as you would expect Dutch cops to be, they had a really refreshing take on use of force. They firmly believed that when you had decided to use force / restrain etc you went at it hard and fast. They believed (correctly in my opinion) that the less you pussy-footed around with it and the faster the subject was restrained the safer it was for all. Not a bad rule if you ask me. It might not look nice but it’s effective and safe.

Batons and spray are pretty ineffective. Despite what the public may think lets face it, neither of these defensive tools is particularly effective. Yeah the spray may affect vision and breathing but plenty of folk sprayed still fight hard. It gives us a potentially small advantage sometimes. As for the baton, well it really depends on the person swinging it and their level of competence and strength. We spend far more time in confrontations wrestling with folk, for which we received the grand total of pretty much zero training. No one ever became a Brazilian Jujitsu master being trained by the cops….

People play act. Oh wow do they play act!!! They will yell and scream endlessly about how they can’t breathe, how their shoulder is being ripped from their socket, how the handcuffs are cutting their wrists, how their neck is sore…. put a camera-phone in front of them (and these days there is always a camera-phone) and it just gets worse. To be fair they seem to forget that ALL of their perceived woes would go away if they stopped fighting……

Handcuffs hurt. Having said the above handcuffs are not comfortable and they aren’t designed to be. However to have them loose actually increases the chance a person drunk / resisting will hurt themselves when they are on and damage their wrists. Getting them on can be very tough when someone is actively resisting and the first chance we get officers will be checking them to ensure they aren’t on too tight and they are locked so they don’t get tighter. That said, suspects will still yell repeatedly that the cuffs are too tight.

Keep your distance. When we are trying to arrest someone members of the public might think they’re helping if they approach us to explain why we are getting it wrong. They usually do this when drunk. There is a good chance if they do this they’ll get told clearly to get back and if they don’t listen will get yelled at and pushed away. They may become highly indignant when this occurs of course, not realising they we don’t KNOW them, and the potential risk they pose to us, whether perceived or otherwise. It’d be better if they yelled their disapproval from a distance outside their own fighting arc.

We actually don’t want to fight. It’s the last thing we want to do. The paperwork that follows a violent arrest? The potential for injury and loss of earnings and our job, the complaints that inevitably follow, why would we want to put ourselves through that? The reason we do it is sadly sometimes it is necessary. We act because we have to. Invariably we have done our best to exhaust other options before we have used force.

Our reaction is dictated by the subjects actions. Though the public might not perceive it. Despite not having regular training one thing we are pretty good at is deciding when to go ‘hands on’. We know from our experience when an individual is about to kick off through words used and body language. Members of the public sometimes think we have grabbed hold of someone for ‘no reason’ but our experience tells us that its about to get physical and the sooner we act the safer we will all be.

And finally….

It’s not ‘part of the job’ to be assaulted. It might be an occupational risk but it will NEVER be a ‘part of the job’. Not now, not ever.


Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

5 thoughts on “Its not like the movies…..”

  1. Another excellent blog WCR. Only wish the wider public got the chance to understand what a police officer goes through rather than through media portrayal or armchair warriors who think they know better based on an ‘edited to suit ‘ YouTube video etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The truth is out there as Mulder would say. Unfortunately some sections of society would rather paint cops as a gang of baton twirling bullies specially trained in the black arts and experts in hand to hand combat. If only they knew “retreat” was the only skill taught these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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