April 9, 2013 10:07:34 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
When it comes to a day in the life of a law enforcement officer, every encounter could be a potential life or death situation.
Given the recent shooting death of a detective inside a police station in Jackson, local law enforcement officials said training and proper equipment are keys to ensuring officer safety.
Starkville Chief of Police David Lindley said his officers take various training classes but he feels having the best equipment available is a means of preventing harm to law enforcement.
"One of the first things they are taught in the academy is weapon retention," Lindley said. "We do offer training but the main thing we rely on is our equipment."
Lindley recalled a situation nearly 20 years ago when a suspect managed to wrestle an officer's gun away from him and shoot him. The officer survived. After the incident, Lindley said the department upgraded their equipment to maximum security holsters, making it more difficult for a subject to disarm an officer. Since the upgrade, Lindley said there have been zero instances of an officer losing his gun in a fight.
Jeff Curtis, owner of Total Control Tactical Institute and a former law enforcement officer at the SPD, recalled the time a suspect attempted to take his service weapon in the middle of a fight. Curtis said while he relied on his training, the fear you experience during that moment is unexplainable.
"I've had people try to take my gun on the streets. That's a scary thing if you're not prepared for it," Curtis said. Recalling the story, Curtis said the suspect put his hands on the officer's gun three different times and tugged at the weapon. The suspect was high on drugs and didn't respond to the officer's attempts to subdue him. Curtis finally ended up detaining the suspect but broke his hand in the process. He remembers people asking him why he didn't shoot the suspect.
"I remember people saying, 'Why didn't you just shoot him?' It never crossed my mind because I was in that retention mode," he said. "He wasn't going to get my weapon."
Curtis said thanks to his training, he knew how to fight with the suspect while keeping his sidearm secured. Curtis has traveled all over the country and on three continents teaching law enforcement the methods of tactical training.
The former law enforcement officer said he feels departments do not focus on continuous training like they should.
"I think one of the biggest faults we have in law enforcement today is lack of training," he said. "They need nutritional training, physical training and mental training."
Curtis said when most young cadets enter various training academies they leave in better physical shape than when they entered. However, once they are out of the academy and are in uniform for a few years, the importance of physical fitness begins to fade.
"The job takes a toll over time," Curtis said.
Mixed martial arts
Jae McIntosh, owner of No Limit Jiu-Jitsu in Starkville, said he has seen an increase of police officers at his gym who want to learn mixed martial arts, not only to keep in shape but to have additional knowledge of ground fighting when they put on their uniform and patrol the streets.
"A gun and mace are only effective if they're out and ready," McIntosh said. "Most attacks happen when you're not prepared. They're going to look at you, analyze the situation and they're going to try to apprehend you as you would apprehend a suspect. They're going to try to pin you down and do whatever they need to do as an attacker."
With that in mind, No Limit focuses primarily on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a ground-based fighting style.
"The thing that officers really need is Brazilian," McIntosh said. "It's about ground combat, submission and technical fighting in that sense."
Of the 25-30 people who train at his gym at any given time, McIntosh said around 10 are members of local police and sheriff's departments. In a recent MMA fight in Columbus between No Limit and Columbus-based MMA gym Relentless, one of the fighters was a Starkville police officer.
McIntosh said while most people could learn basic stand-up fighting tactics in a year, training your body for Brazilian jiu-jitsu takes longer due to the intricacies of hand-to-hand combat.
"Stand-up fighting you can learn and get decently good at in a year, but Brazilian is more technical and you're dealing with the person's body weight and the athletics of it." McIntosh said.
A simple move for those just learning the art of jiu-jitsu is the bridge and roll technique -- a method commonly seen in street fighting. With the bridge and roll, an officer can get a suspect off him in one fluid movement.
"Trap the arm, trap the leg, so now you're on top or a bridge and roll technique to escape the mount position," he said. "It's street fighting for beginners. If an individual is on top of you with their knees on the ground and you're lying flat on your back, you can't use muscle to throw the person off. But with both of your feet on the ground, raise your hips up and rotate to that side and the same side leg is trapped and you'll end up in a dominant top position."
McIntosh said school teachers, college students and stay-at-home mothers also train at the gym.
He feels learning jiu-jitsu is imperative to any officer on the streets.
"Most street altercations end up in a clench," he said. "If you're standing up fighting, you can trip and fall. If you don't know how to fight to get off the ground you can get in serious danger."
A dissenting view
Curtis said he discourages ground fighting and teaches a class called "Ground Avoidance Ground Escape" or GAGE. He echoed McIntosh's thoughts and said officers need to get off the ground as quickly as possible.
"My company does not recommend an officer going to the ground to fight," he said. "When you're fighting in the streets, it's different than at the gym. You've got your nylon uniform, your weapon and your duty belt, and then you ask them to go to the ground and fight? It's not the same as a gym."There is a probability that the officer is going to go to the ground. They need to know how to defend, how to counter and how to get up as quick as they can so they can get the largest muscle of their body in use such as their hips and their legs."
Learning how to retain their weapon in the midst of a physical altercation is a large part of training for law enforcement officers, Curtis said. "Statistically, about 14 percent of officers that lose their life lose their life with their own weapon. When we look at that, we have to understand there are two parts of protecting a weapon system."
Curtis said when new officers enter the academy they are first taught how to wrestle with a suspect to keep their gun in their holster. If for some reason the suspect succeeds in taking the officer's weapon, they are then taught how to wrestle with a suspect to get their gun back.
"That's one of the first things they are trained to do is wrestling with their weapon system. It's a skill set, an ability," Curtis said.
You have to have an understanding of how to disarm when you have an opportunity to do that, he said. Be aggressive, go get it, disarm them. Anytime someone tries to disarm an officer, it's deadly force. The officer has every right to use any skill set to save his life or others.
Curtis said in that moment, instinct kicks in and officers rely on their training.
"We are human," he said. "The last thing we want to believe is that a human is capable of taking another human life. It's just not a natural thing but unfortunately it does occur. There are inmates in prison practicing how to disarm police officers. Knowing that, we have to make ourselves stay alert, train harder than they do and be committed to survival."
Curtis noted last week's murder of Jackson Police Department Detective Eric Smith and the shooting death of one of his former students in Tishomingo last year.
"It hurts when we lose a life and a fellow warrior," he said. "We sit back and say, What can we do to make it better? What can we do so that what happened to him won't happen to another officer?' Every arrest an officer makes, there is a gun present. That gun just as unfortunately can turn and be in someone else's hands. For all of us in the law enforcement world, that's one of the worst feelings you can imagine.
"I think it's time we step our game up to a different level to stay safe and keep the public safe."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.