The Danger of Ground Fights

January 29, 2015

With the surging popularity of mixed martial arts fighting (MMA), Americans are increasingly familiar with ground fighting. It’s the bread and butter of many former and current champs of that sport. Sport, however, is the operative word. In a real-world fight, being on the ground—and on the receiving end especially—is about the last place a police officer would want to find his- or herself.

But anything can happen in a street fight. So, if you ever find yourself on the ground and engaged with a younger, stronger, determined, aggressive and assaultive suspect, how would you get yourself back in control? And at what point in this hypothetical struggle would you be justified in using deadly force? These aren’t simple questions to answer.

The Risks
Every cop knows that police officer/suspect confrontations are never a 50/50 proposition. Resisting arrest never involves a fair fight. A fair fight means that you lose 50% of the time. Cops can never afford to lose—ever.

Added to the equation is that police officers have to follow a certain set of established “Rules of Engagement.” Department policies and procedures are ever present when we have to arrest or control actively resisting suspects as is the Graham v. Connor “reasonableness” standard. Your job is to win, but by using only reasonable force. But make no mistake about it, losing is never an option.

Of course, the suspect has no such rules or standards to worry about. No rules. His job is simply to win. Period. To defeat you. To escape. Or worse, to kill you.

When the LEOKA stats are released every year, we read about the number of police officers murdered with their own firearm. While statistics are not available on how many of these officers were knocked to the ground before they were disarmed, anecdotal evidence tells us the figure is not insignificant. Years ago, the Jim Lindell’s National Law Enforcement Training Center out of Kansas City, Missouri estimated that more than 80% of disarmings occur during physical confrontations as opposed to the firearm being pulled or lost from the holster.

There’s an old adage among police force trainers. It goes something like this: “If you’re on the ground and not handcuffing, you’re losing.”

Some may dispute this statement, but it does have some validity. Why? Because the guy who’s fighting with you has only one thing on his mind: beating your brains in. You, on the other hand, have a lot more going on inside your head, not the least of which is securing your gun; or your OC; or your Taser; getting to your cuffs or getting on the radio; the calling for back up and giving out your location.

It’s intense, to say the least. Here’s how you regain control.

The Tactics
Staying “on top” should be your number one priority. If you find yourself face down, fight like hell to get onto your buttocks. You have a lot more options if you can flip over to face your opponent. Pull your knees close to your chest, tuck your chin in, keep your feet up and get your hands into a blocking position. This configuration not only makes you a smaller target, it protects your vital areas, allows you to quickly move around to keep your opponent in front of you and allows your feet to be used as defensive and offensive weapons.

Remember, whatever you can do standing up you can do on the ground. That means kicking, swinging your baton, dispersing OC or firing your Taser. By staying on your butt, you can also shift back and forth from your right hip to your left. Accessibility to your tools is important. It also allows you to radio for help if the opportunity presents itself, and the ability to shift from right to left also permits you to defend yourself against multiple assailants.

The Follow-Through
Once you’ve got the suspect far enough away from you—or hopefully on the ground himself—it’s time to get off your butt (literally) and get him under control, cuffed and stuffed.

Get him ground-stabilized face down, verbally calm him down (for not only the crowd but for your report) and get him handcuffed behind the back. Don’t worry about which way the keyholes are facing at this point; just make sure the cuffs are double-locked. The follow-through process includes getting him up on his feet quickly, especially if you’re dealing with an obese or hyper-agitated suspect, and over to your squad. Double-locking the cuffs will prevent them from tightening in the event you have to roll him over onto his back in order to get him onto his feet.

A word of caution. You’re not going to learn ground-fighting skills from an article. You have to practice these techniques to the point of mastery. That means during your (hopefully frequent) in-service refresher.

The tactics described above are simple and focus on gross motor skills. Sure there are better techniques. But unless you’re an experienced martial artist or have the time to hone your fine motor skills, what I described above can be taught and practiced within the limited amount of time most cops have for physical skills refresher training. Used in a crisis, they can be life saving.

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