At some point, usually when you least expect it, someone else is going to force a situation that leaves you no option but to deal with it. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be on your own in the middle of nowhere with a radio that doesn’t work and a nutter who is intent on completing his life’s ambition of kicking a coppers head in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, 20 or 50, married with kids or single, all they see is the uniform and what they want to do to it. This kind of situation doesn’t happen that often to be fair, but you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your family to be as prepared as possible to deal with any given situation. That could be first on scene to a major incident, a serious sexual assault allegation, a burglary, or backing colleagues up at a fight.
The latter can often be a serious bone of contention, most people don’t like to think that our job is as violent as it really is. The fact that most paramedics nowadays routinely wear body armour (especially at night) is testimony to how dangerous our society has become where people who’s one and only job is to save lives and yet people still attack them. Despite the growing trend in attacks on emergency service personnel, our officer safety training is pitifully inadequate and does not reflect what it’s like to be fighting with some drunk unit on the floor whilst wearing full (polyester) uniform, belt kit and body armour. The role plays at training school are so far removed from reality that personally I think they do more harm than good. They instill false confidence that can and has come back to bite people seriously hard in the arse.
Only recently have the recommendations and allowances for real life started to work their way into the Police management mentality, especially in Professional standards departments. This means that it is becoming accepted that we do not receive enough training to expect everyone to be able to remember or use the home office approved techniques when the situation is going banjo. Sometimes the quickest and easiest way to drop someone or shock them enough to be able to gain control is a good old fashioned punch to the face. This tends to look really bad on camera and bystanders who are obviously experts in everything criticise you, but needs must, and you resort to what you know when your heart rate goes through the roof and fine motor control is diminished because of it.
Handcuffing is a classic example of this, at training school we were taught something like 20 different ways of putting the things on and taking them off. Most operational police officers have one or two techniques that we like and use and in the heat of the moment you turn to what your muscle memory has been programmed to do, they come out, they go on and you sort out how to get them off at the station. As long as you put them in the holder properly, you can be pretty certain you’ll be able to take them off with the minimum of fuss – as long as someone in custody remembered to take their cuff key out with them.
CS spray is another piece of kit that is hardly ever used, I’ve only threatened it a few times and used it twice. Personally I hate the stuff as it turns me into a heaving snot monster, and if you think about the type of people that it affects the least, you start to realise why most police officers don’t use or like it. We are taught that CS doesn’t work on people with mental problems, who’s adrenalin is high, who have become used to it through exposure (such as armed forces), people who are seriously drunk and have ridiculously high alcohol assisted pain thresholds, disciplined or focused people (such as proper martial artists) or about 25% of the rest of the population. What you can be absolutely certain of, is if someone gets the stuff out and uses it, the main people affected will be the Police officers.
Some people may have had experience of being in a fight before they joined, others practice some form of martial art or boxing but most people have never been in so much as a shouting match prior to picking up their warrant card. Sparring or fighting someone and trying to get away is completely different from the type of fights you have as a Police officer, most of the time you’re trying to restrain someone safely which is considerably harder than actually dropping someone or knocking them out. Virtually everything we do is influenced by how it looks to the public and knocking ten barrels of shit out of someone looks much worse than 4 or 5 people taking them to the floor and cuffing them. As usual you’ll get the “how many does it take?” comments or some idiot counting you all out loud, but it’s much better than a Police brutality headline and someone’s photo of them black and blue splashed across BBC or Sky News, whether they deserved it or not.
Most of the people I work with (including me) hold to the belief that we can’t really trust someone until we’ve either seen them in a fight, or know that they’ve been in one. It doesn’t matter whether that officer is young or old, male or female, if they haven’t been in a fight then they are an unknown quantity and therefore a liability. Something I absolutely cannot tolerate is being involved in an incident and watching the duty probationer doing the moonwalk over to the van or a witness – especially if they’ve actually wound the person up in the first place. There are a number of reasons for this really and as a trainee Police officer they have an obligation to become experienced in all areas of the job, especially ones that they don’t like or are afraid of. If they are unwilling to get involved in a physical confrontation then you cannot know for sure that if something kicks off and there are only the two of you, that you can trust that person to back you up all the way and not leg it. I have seen specials literally run to a car and lock themselves in and I’ve had people wind someone up and then expect me to deal with it as they buggered off to speak to the doormen.
If you have never been in a fight then the best time to get the experience in a relatively safe environment is when there are other colleagues there to help out, if we’re out in the main public order areas with a probationer who we know is inexperienced then every single one of us will be looking to that person to get involved, if not take the lead. Just because you thought you were good at doing an elbow strike on a pad in the gym counts for nothing if you can’t land a decent strike or get a proper arm lock on someone who is intent on taking home some trophy bruises.
Until you’ve actually experienced the effects of adrenalin and know what you can and can’t do whilst it’s going through you, then you will not know what to expect at other incidents, not just fights. If your pulse doesn’t rise and your hands don’t shake at your first proper RTA, foot chase or jumper then you’re lucky. If it does and you don’t know what to expect then you could not only make mistakes, but you could also leave the incident with self doubt which, if unresolved, can lead to other complications, especially with confidence. Not being able to write or hold something without shaking is perfectly natural and if you expect it then you can deal with it. Once you realise that people only see what you show them, it doesn’t matter that you’re scared and your heart is trying to burst out of your chest and you are taking short sharp breaths. As long as you give off an air of calm and confidence, most people will actually back down before you have to get into a fight. The problem is that most of the time you actually have to experience a fight before you work out how to avoid them without backing down yourself.
If you’re the kind of person who joins the Police thinking that you’ll get through your whole service without ever having a fight then to be honest you shouldn’t have joined. You owe it to yourself to experience the bits of the job that scare you as ultimately you could find yourself alone with someone who wants to take you on. If you’re not confident that you can win the fight, the very last thing you want to do is show the other person that. You can be certain it will give them a confidence boost that they’ll take advantage of and you’ll be in a world of hurt. If you are a Police officer and you have yet to actually have your first proper fight then I would encourage you to get stuck in when you can, especially if there are a few of you and the chances of you actually getting injured are slim. It’s not macho, the experience could actually help you save someone’s life once you know what it feels like to not be fully in control, that life could even be your own.