Last week the chief of the Brooklyn Park, Minn., police department released a video from last November that shows Officer Sean Hyman in a fight for his life. The incident began as a simple loud music complaint. After initial contact with the car’s occupant, 25-year-old Lance Carr, Hyman returns to his squad, where he learns that there was an active warrant for Carr.
Hyman is advised that back-up is on its way as he approaches the vehicle again and has Carr exit. Before he knows what’s happening Carr has Hyman on the ground fighting for his life.
The officer, who was unable to reach his radio, screams “Help!” at least 20 times. As the struggle continues, Hyman’s gun suddenly fires. As two back-up officers arrive, Hyman screams “Shoot him!” Instead, the officers tackle Carr and use a Taser to subdue him.
(Carr was convicted of first-degree assault and sentencing will be at a later date.)
Videos of police officers doing their job are being released quickly and constantly. There are thousands available on the net for all to watch as often as they wish. Most who view them lack any real perspective regarding what’s being depicted. Viewers know nothing about real stress and have never been in the position the officers find themselves in. This ignorance is reflected in the comments.
That said, we—as officers, bosses, and trainers—need to view these videos with both an experienced and a critical eye: Not to find fault in order to criticize, but rather to evaluate, study, and improve. We must share the nuances of stress events in an effort to teach others and learn ourselves.
“Every time I watch it, I think the officer is going to die.” That’s what the Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde said at the press conference. That is a very good observation. And as Chief Enevoldsen said, “Carr’s actions were those of a man whose mindset was ‘I’m going to harm you.’” An understatement for sure. “It was not an attempt to escape but an attempt to kill,” he said.
So what can we learn? What did Sean Hyman learn from this incident about his tactics, about himself?
Hyman makes a common mistake that many officers—especially males— make. He approached a subject he was going to arrest while he was by himself.
Why? Back-up was coming.
I’ve found police officers have a hard time waiting. Not sure why. Maybe it seems as though no one’s taking control if nothing’s being done.
Learn this: If back-up is coming, wait! Unless the subject creates a situation that has to be handled immediately, be patient.
Attempt to Cuff
Several points here.
Putting offenders against a car is tactically advantageous for them. If you’re going to give someone three points of contact you’re giving them leverage. So if you’re going to use a wall or a car, get them the hell so far off balance that one swift kick to the inside of their calf or ankle will take them to the ground.
Don’t take your cuffs out until you have the subject in the correct position to control him or her. Officer Hyman had a subject bigger than himself and was trying to multi-task (closing the driver’s door, control the hands, take out his cuffs, place the cuffs on a wrist) all while looking down. Which meant he missed the body language cues.
Scanning. Carr, as soon as he exited the vehicle, was looking around. What are people looking for when their heads are swiveling (i.e., scanning)? Escape routes, witnesses, and/or back-up. But if you’re looking down and trying to coordinate several things at a time, your attention will not be paid to the most important thing: what the subject is telling you.
Once it’s on, you’d better know what you are doing. Most people have never been in a real knock-down, drag-out fight. Especially where the other person wants to kill you. Often when you realize that fact the physiological and psychological stress levels skyrocket. The result: Cognitive deterioration, exhaustion, perceptual distortion, etc.
We as police agencies do next to nothing to prepare our officers for this type of reaction. Boxing and wrestling in academies is almost nonexistent.
Fighting as a cop only adds to the stress. We have rules, regs, laws and court parameters. We carry multiple weapons that—especially once a fight goes to the ground—must be protected. So you are immediately at a disadvantage.
In addition, under extreme stress you will naturally breath quickly and shallow, which means a lower exchange of oxygen, something the brain desperately needs to function. So your cognitive abilities take a dump. Pretty soon you’re panicked.
Finally, you’ve got maybe 30 seconds of full energy before you start to physically deteriorate. What does that mean? We have to end fights quickly. To do that you need to know how and where to hit. Problem with that is it doesn’t look too good. Knees and elbows, biting, and gouging are often required, but just the thought of that type of response makes some bosses uneasy.
There is a saying we use in the Street Survival program. “An attack on you is a violent act. What’s the only way to overcome violence? Answer: More violence! Not mindless, endless violence, but violence nonetheless.” The sooner and more peacefully it’s ended, the better.
The best way to win a fight is to avoid them. Don’t move in unless you have to. Demonstrate a command presence. Don’t come across as weak. At the same time try not to initiate an altercation or agitate the subject.
Communication skills are the most important skills for law enforcement professionals. But communication is a two-way activity. Learn to read people: their words and their body. Use yours to convey strength, confidence and tactical awareness. But, you must also have the ability to calm the irrational, relieve their fears, and convince them that an attack on you is something that need not occur.
And if the fight starts, you need to be able to finish it.