Blue Line

The Ethical Use of Force

December 21, 2015  By Al Arsenault

1417 words – MR >>> <<< CONFERENCE PRESENTER >>>

The ethical use of force

Adding a little lustre to the badge

by Al Arsenault and Toby Hinton

There has been unprecedented media scrutiny recently of inappropriate police use of force. Numerous videos of police officers using crude defensive tactics have elevated anti-police sentiment to an all-time high. The public is demanding more accountability.

To the uninformed, many legitimate and conventional arrest tactics are perceived as ‘police brutality’. There is a need for systematic training designed specifically for effective and safe law enforcement.

{Using Judo as a foundation}

An arrest requires the physical application of force by a police officer, whether cooperative or not. In the absence of safe and reasonable alternative techniques, there is an over-reliance on the use of belt gadgets and striking techniques when a person merely resists arrest.

Judo is a martial art that excels in taking people to the ground and this foundational skill is invaluable in the arrest process. Indeed, the use of grappling techniques lead to less-violent scenarios. Judo develops a strong base with good balance while destroying the same strengths of the opponent. Stripped of all semblances of sport, the remaining techniques are worth learning as they link very well with other arrest and control tactics, many which offer the requisite control needed for handcuffing.

{Controlling vs. holding}

The classic physical ‘collaring’ of a criminal constitutes mere ‘holding’ of an arrestee. ‘Controlling’, on the other hand, involves some degree of pain or discomfort because joints, particularly in the arm, are manipulated to extremes using pressure across the joint(s) of the seized appendage.

Counter-pressure (via fixed objects, gravity or one’s own body exertions), possibly leading to convincing pain and/or exploitable movement, is needed to inhibit resistance and curtail assaultive behaviour. As such, controlling is vastly superior to holding.

{Maintaining continuous control}

A person being arrested will readily sense an absence, or loss, of control and possibly try to escape or assault an officer. The officer must gain this control early and maintain it throughout contact with the arrestee. If a person can feel pain and appreciate its effects, then the strategic application is conducive to compliance – the brain is simply given a deal that it cannot refuse to pass up.

Arrest drills (including handcuffing) need to be practiced regularly; built-in stress inoculation reinforces the principles behind continuous control, professional communication and teamwork.

{Linkage of techniques}

If techniques are taught in unrelated ‘silo’ form, officers will not see how one can morph into another during a struggle. Also, the officer may want to change from one control lock to another to change relative body positioning, strengthen degree of control or move the arrestee around.

It takes a concerted training effort to feel how these control tactics can change with the dynamic and shifting situations encountered on the street. The shift from control locks to takedowns and throws, all leading to handcuffing, is an important skill set to learn.

{Most and least likely}

It is wise to know how to physically handle the ‘most-likely’ to the ‘least-likely’ of situations. Least-likely scenarios such as knife attacks and gun-stripping drills are taught in police academies more for liability purposes (read ‘risk management’) or to bolster their use-of-force syllabi.

Training to effectively deal with most-likely forms of resistance encountered on the street is sorely needed. Specialized skills like knife-fighting can be learned as advanced techniques but ‘owning’ and handcuffing an arrestee are more essential (and perishable) and need considerable and constant practice.

{Practical and effective takedowns}

Using the escort grip places the officer in the optimum position when making an arrest. Joint locks and takedowns should be taught from this position of control to counter the most-likely types of resistance to be met. Such techniques give the option of applying pain in order to limit resistance, direct movement or even injure or break a joint if necessary. All use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances – officers should be able to clearly justify and articulate their actions in writing.

{Ethical use of force}

Any applied force should be reasonable; it must be necessary and used in a justifiable and ethical manner. It is easy to think ethically when you are in control over an arrestee, hence the value of effectively gaining and maintaining physical control. Police trainees must be taught not just to look after each other on the mat but to extend this (Judo) philosophy of ‘mutual benefit and welfare’ to those who would try to escape from them or who would do bodily harm to the officer or public.

Many who fight with the police do not know how to do so effectively, are mentally ill, on drugs, inebriated or temporarily unstable due to personal problems. Officers should be taught to treat a suspect as if they were a family member and not apply force based on their own agitated emotional state; force should be applied calmly and with a degree of compassion.

{Reality-based training}

It takes a certain amount of experience to determine how much force should be used in given situations and to remain relatively composed while doing so. Crude reality-based scenario training puts students under stress, enhancing their ability to learn. Common sense is most uncommon when under stress, but creative visualization training and combat breathing can help an officer remain unruffled in volatile and high-stress situations.

It is only through practice of such realistic training and actual street experience that an officer’s decision-making process is enhanced. The difference between what is learned in the sport training gym and what’s actually encountered on the street is significant.

{Sport vs. reality}

There are no refs nor rules on the street – taking violent offenders into custody is neither a sport nor a game. Unlike the philosophies of many martial arts schools police officers are expected to use their skills in accordance with the Criminal Code of Canada, not rules of sport. There is no such thing as a ‘fair fight’ on the street. The courts sanction law enforcement officers to win sans any artificial encumbrances like the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Sports-based techniques successfully practiced in the sterile confines of the training hall can get an officer injured or killed on the street. Police should be taught to (gently) bite, eye gouge, pull hair and engage in other nasty ‘dirty’ fighting techniques. The ghosts of our students should not come back to haunt us because we did not teach them about the ugly realities, treachery and vileness facing them on the street.

{Recreation vs. competition}

A recreational model is a far better way to offer training than a competitive model because few students are actually interested in competition. Injuries can be more common when vying for top spots. A crippling injury, all for the sake of a medal, can ruin a recruit’s ambitions or sideline a street officer.

Training under rules of sport can cause players, when under high degrees of stress, to inadvertently adhere to these artificial standards; the street of hard knocks can be a cruel and unforgiving teacher.

{Start training early}

While there are many post-secondary institutions offering diplomas and degrees in criminology, police sciences or law enforcement, very few have an on-going physical training component. We are not adequately preparing the younger generation for the reality of the world in which they will be working.

The allocated 80 hours of hands-on training at the police academy is not nearly enough time to develop skills and proficiencies in use-of-force techniques. By starting realistic training early, students can attain hundreds of hours of relevant preparation before they even enter a police academy.

Ideal use-of-force training should be recreational, functional and able to be practiced at any age or skill level; it must extend much further than basic academy training or use-of-force re-certification. Officers who are well-trained can remain calm and act ethically under physical stress while displaying solid professional control techniques and tactics.

Those who refuse to train, preferring to use angry brute force over composed finesse, will add no lustre to the badge while unnecessarily complicating their careers.

We urge you all to train for the way the fight is and not for the way you hope it will be – but above all, fight the good fight!


Police sergeant Toby Hinton and retired police officer and certified police trainer Al Arsenault are the founders of Police Judo ( They will conduct a lecture and training session at the Blue Line Conference in April. Visit for more details or to register.

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