Overcoming Resisting Arrest: Why It Always Looks Bad

From the arrest of Rodney King to the George Floyd incident, videos of police arrests have incited a public uproar. Beside the fact that the media keeps pouring gas on the fire by re-showing these videos, ad nauseum, they always make law enforcement officers look like brutal Neanderthals. That is because taking someone into custody, who doesn’t want to go to jail, is not a pretty scene. Another reason is the public’s opinions are shaped by cop shows on TV and the movies.

Many in the public think they know how to do police work because they’ve watched it for years on their TV and movie screens. They think that they know about trends in policing because they watch the news on the mainstream media. Their perceptions have nothing to do with reality. This month, TIPP released a poll about law enforcement. The real statistics show that police use force in only about 2% of their contacts with the public. Most people thought it was a lot more, with 44% thinking it was between 10 and 20%.

When asked if police shootings have increased or decreased since the year 2000, 53% thought they had increased. The reality is police shootings are down by double digit percentage points in all major cities, 60% in New York, 42% in LA and similar trends in all major cities. So the brainwashed herd believes fictional entertainment shows and reports from biased media.

Unless someone has experienced the act of trying to arrest someone who does not want to go to jail, that person has no idea how difficult it is. It would be nice if cops could just reach out and pinch someone on the neck, and that person would be rendered unconscious, like Spock did on the TV show Star Trek. The fact is, American law enforcement did have such a tool, and although it didn’t work quite as fast as Spock’s pinch, it was just as effective. It was the carotid restraint. An obstreperous suspect who was resisting arrest, could usually be rendered unconscious in 10 or 12 seconds or less.

One may ask why law enforcement isn’t still using this very useful tool that negated a lot of injuries to suspects and officers? It was eliminated as a result of a near perfect storm of lowering recruitment standards, a rise in the use of PCP and other drugs that gave suspects superhuman strength, bad press that wrongly attributed suspect deaths to the carotid restraint hold and overreaction by panicked police administrators.

Here is what happened. Many of the larger law enforcement agencies taught two techniques that the public referred to as “choke holds”. One was the bar arm, which cut off oxygen to the brain and the carotid, which cut off blood to the brain. The problem with the bar arm hold, was that when a suspect who was placed in it, began to violently thrash around, he or she would sometimes suffer from a crushed larynx or other neck injuries that could cause death. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several deaths were attributed to the bar arm restraint. As a result, some agencies, including LAPD, banned the use of the bar arm, but still allowed the use of the carotid restraint.  (On the Long Beach PD, where I worked, we were never taught or used the bar arm.)

As a result, deaths started to be blamed on the carotid restraint. But here is the reality. Officers who had used the bar arm for years without problem, suddenly were ordered to use only the carotid. After having restrained suspects for years using the bar arm, when a suspect began to resist, he was placed in the bar arm that had always proved effective. On those rare occasions where a suspect died, the officer would report that the suspect had died after the carotid restraint was used. He may not have even realized which hold he had placed the suspect in, but he knew if he reported using the bar arm he would be fired and possibly prosecuted. I believe that a review of those deaths ascribed to the carotid hold would show that those injuries could not have occurred if the carotid hold was properly placed, but would be much more likely in bar arm holds.

At that same time, the increased use of the drugs PCP and methamphetamine caused a lot more resistance to arrests and more violent thrashing when placed in either the bar arm or carotid holds. Bar arm holds were much more likely to cause injuries to suspects under the influence of those drugs. In addition, in an attempt to recruit and hire more female officers, height and weight requirements were lowered. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for an officer, male or female, using the carotid restraint, to successfully subdue a 6 foot, two inch, 220 pound suspect, if the officer is 5 foot 7 inches and weighs 120 or 130 pounds. This fact, effectively eliminated that hold for shorter, lighter officers of either sex.

At that point, police administrators over reacted to the media blitz by restricting the use of the carotid restraint hold to life or death situations. In layman’s terms this meant that officers could only use the carotid restraint in situations where they could also shoot the suspect; where a suspect posed a deadly threat to the officer or other people. This virtually ended the use of the carotid restraint as an effective police tool.

The ultimate result was that resisting suspects still had to be overcome. Officers had to use batons. The use of a baton is never a pretty sight. If the LAPD officers had been able to use the carotid restraint, Rodney King would have been rendered unconscious, handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car before the citizen would have had his video camera filming. Since then, law enforcement has been on a quest to find other less than lethal tools to overcome resistance to arrest. None had been as effective or efficient as the carotid hold.

While mace and pepper spray have been used for decades, they are not always effective on those under the influence of some drugs. Tasers are marginally effect in many instances, but not all. Other so-called tools, like the ill advised “capture net”, have proved to be hard to deploy, difficult to train with, and rarely used.

With 29 years of police experience, I have used and seen the carotid restraint used hundreds of times with few, if any injuries to officers or suspects. Without the use of the carotid hold, many more officers and suspects have been injured. The tools left to those officers on the street do not look gentle, kind or politically correct. The only alternative in many cases, is overwhelming brute force. It is never pretty, but what other option is there?

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