02 August 2014

The use of choke holds by professionals

Recently, this has been in the news after a New York City police officer used an unauthorized airway choke that resulted in the death of a suspect.  The first problem for those defending the officer is that I have been lead to understand that the NYPD does not teach any chokes at all.  And that is the subject I would like to address here.

For many years various forms of chokes were taught to law enforcement across the country.  Several factors have now caused them to be largely abandoned.  The primary reason was the liability caused by teaching them to unqualified officers in an educational setting instead of a training setting.  Often chokes were shown as a sidebar and seldom practiced to the point of competence.  To do so would have meant recruits and in service officers knocking each other out, and that might result in a loss time injury, and every training officer knows we cannot have that.

I am a huge advocate of the use of vascular chokes by police and bouncers as long as I am able to vet them as I would someone that I was hiring to work for me as an officer.  My idea to the chief was that an applicant walk into a room and he be punched in the face, if he fought back we made him a police, if not he could become a fireman.  I want officers and bouncers to be comfortable with open hand violence more than anything else, because that is what they are going to face most often and those are the tools they will always have with them.  A man in decent shape who knows how to use his hands is less prone to panic and using any tactic or tool at an inappropriate time.  

Back to chokes, most know that there are two kinds, airway and circulatory.  Airway chokes are the most popular, especially by untrained or under trained individuals.  As a matter of fact, this was the case in New York.  See choking is very natural.  If you take people with no experience at all and pit them against each other, there are several natural positions people just end up in, and one of those is with the back of one fighter to the other.  When you get someone's back, it is instinctive to grab them around the neck and squeeze for dear life.  After all, your arm fits so well around their throat perfectly.

The liability issues are many with an airway choke.  The first is that they can be very slow unless you are lucky enough to get part of a circulatory choke at the same time.  Muscles contract under stress, not expand, so when you feel the choke is not working you just squeeze harder until they are unconscious or something forces you to stop.  This also usually involves you going to your back as you squeeze.  The problem is that the trachea is kinda ribbed like a vacuum hose and once you crush it, it does not pop back into shape. People go into respiratory distress, have permanent physical damage, or die.  This may not be the case for Barry Badass who gets into a scrape at the bar now and then, but if you are applying chokes habitually as a cop or bouncer, it is only a matter of time.

The night before the NYPD case went viral I had choked out two fellas while bouncing.  Staff who had witnessed the incidents all rushed to show me the article on their phones when I came in that night.  I was able to point to the still images and show them exactly what an airway choke looked like, and explained that was not what I used and they could tell because I had total unconsciousness in under 1-2 seconds with each fellow.

When it comes to use of force, in my opinion, circulatory restraints are in a class by themselves.  Professionally my criteria for using them is as follows-

1)  I am able to articulate that based on what I have seen or heard, the subject has a greater propensity for violence and any other physical contact will result in a "fight" and that is not what I am paid to do.

2)  The subject is alone, or I have staff that will watch my back.

3)  I am able to get close enough without getting others involved.

Example #1-  Environment- Crowded outside, recessed patio bar.
Subject- Late 20's white male, 5'9/180 lbs, excellent shape, maybe a body builder, extremely intoxicated.
Scenario-   Subject was cut off by bartender, dropped and broke a glass bottle on the ground, scaring other customers enough that they were leaving the area.  Began pounding his fists on the bar. (pre assault indicator), told bar maid he was going to "kill her" (pre assault indicator), was wearing two shirts and pulled one off over his head (pre assault indicator).  I moved behind him and put my hands on his shoulders with my partner just to the rear.  In reaction to this, he pushed off of the bar at which time I applied a circulatory restraint (blood choke).  By the time I turned him towards my partner, he was unconscious.  I laid him down and in 2-3 minutes he woke up totally disoriented and unable to fight.  My partner and I escorted him to the parking lot where a friend gave him a ride home, even though he had pissed his pants.

Example #2-  Environment- recessed patio bar, just after closing time
Subject- Late 40's, white male, 6'3 200 lbs, athletic, extremely intoxicated
Scenario- The previous week the subject had become fixated on my partner and I when he found out we were not Marines.  Before walking away, he shook my partner's hand and would not let go.  We also heard from a bartender that he said he was taking anti psychotic drugs, and obviously mixing them with alcohol.    He began yelling at customers who he believed had told him to shut up, although they had not said anything.  Bartender was counting out his register at the bar when the subject, mixed drink and cigarette in hand, insisted on sitting next to him.  Subject began to verbally harass my partner and I and had challenged me to "taking it to the parking lot" as long as I promised not to call the cops.  I accepted hoping we could get outside and I could tell him I was too afraid to fight just to get him out.  Once I said I was game he would not move.  It was approaching 2:15 AM at which time we need to have everyone outside.  After ignoring several verbal commands to leave I stepped down into the recessed bar and approached him.  In reaction to this, he said "don't touch me".  I took the mixed drink out of his hand and flicked the cigarette from the other.  In reaction to this, he drew back his right hand in an attempt to punch me.  I applied a vascular restraint and he was unconscious in seconds.  I laid him on the ground and within about a minute he woke up, unable to fight, and was escorted to the parking lot.  Unbeknownst to me, he had a vehicle in the parking lot which he eventually drove away in.  About 45 minutes after I got off, he called the bar and asked for a specific bartender.  The girl who answered the phone said he was not there.  He said "bullshit, I am watching him at the outside bar".

Like I said there is a time and place for chokes.  If you are not comfortable with police and bouncers using them maybe you need to revisit your hiring practices.

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