Saturday, 7 June 2008

How many does it take?!?!

I have no idea how many times I've been asked how many Police officers it takes to restrain someone. Usually it's a rhetorical screech in my ear, others it's some drunken arse counting us all out as loud as he can. Anything more than one on one, and we get accused of excessive force. The problem with one on one is when trying to restrain someone who doesn't want to be restrained or is actively fighting, you need to use even more force in order to control them. This inevitably leads to injuries which we are then criticised about.

Unlike two blokes having a fight on the street with the intention of ripping lumps out of each other, the methods that we use are designed to do a number of things instead of just putting someone on the deck and walking away. First and foremost is to actually cause as little long lasting injury as possible to the person being restrained and secondly to minimise the risk of injury to the officers involved. By having a number of officers controlling a limb or the head and another just concentrating on handcuffing, you can safely prevent someone from lashing out and injuring themselves. It is considerably better to walk into custody with someone gobbing off that it took five or six officers to hold them down, than one or two walking in with someone bleeding and battered, having been sprayed and batoned to the floor.

Invariably if someone can be handcuffed easily then they will be, it is much easier to get them into a van if they are compliant. It also makes the custody procedure quicker and minimises the possibility of having to do 'constant watch' on someone (sitting on a chair outside their cell watching them for the duration of the shift whilst seriously bored) if they think they have been mistreated and have decided they'll just try and kill themselves in the cell to get one up on us.
Another consideration is that while most people will just watch, some will stand there screaming abuse at you because the person on the deck "ain't dun nuffink" while others will attack the officers, either because they are vulnerable or because they want the person to escape. If there is a crowd of 200 people we'll be lucky to get one or two who will actually help if we're on our own (most will get the mobiles out and film it for youtube) which is why as many officers as possible will come in, control whatever they can get hold of so the person can be cuffed or strapped and then removed. In addition to remaining in control of the incident by ending it quickly, it also prevents the likelihood of positional asphyxia, which can be fatal.

If you have a look at the picture above, you'll see that there are four officers involved in restraining the guy on the floor, the fifth officer standing up has either dislocated floor-guys left hip and is holding his leg, or more likely is holding back the guy to his right. The female officer at the front is holding the head against the floor, although this may be uncomfortable, it stops him head butting the floor (which happens a lot) and creating injuries to blame the police later on, as well as leaving them free to spit at/bite the officers closest to him. It also puts her in a position of control where she can speak/shout directly in his ear so he can hear the instructions such as 'stop resisting' or 'put your hands behind your back' etc. Pinning the head can reduce the likelihood of him fighting as most people tend to calm down when their head is restrained.

The male officer at the back is holding his legs to prevent him kicking about and also from using his leg/back muscles to try and lift himself off the floor. The most common method we use to control legs when some one is face down is to bring the feet up to the buttocks, cross the ankles then hold the feet there. Most of the time this can be done by one (large/strong) person however if you have someone who is drunk/drugged or is high on adrenalin then it may take two people. The reason for crossing the legs over is to put the largest muscles of the thigh in a position of mechanical weakness which prevents them being used, it also gives a level of pain compliance that can be applied or eased off as appropriate with the ankle joint, especially if the person being restrained has a muscular build or is not very flexible.

The officer on floor-guy's left side is holding the arm over the back so that he can be handcuffed. Depending on the strength or mental state of the person being restrained, getting the arms out can be pretty difficult, especially if they have a high drink induced pain threshold. The natural instinct when being pinned is to go into the foetal position with the arms in to the chest to protect the stomach and head, and bring the knees up high to protect the groin.

This is why most people pull their hands in front of them, although occasionally you can have someone hiding or trying to get to a weapon or drugs. Either way, the person is being restrained and cuffed for a reason in which case the best place for the hands to be is behind them so that they cannot strike out to the front, even if cuffed. By having one person on each arm you can apply pain compliance in the form of locks or strikes which either immobilise the muscle groups or deaden/shock them for long enough to be manipulated into position.

Once you have the persons arms into position to be cuffed then either of the arm controllers can handcuff, although it is often preferable to have someone else come in to handcuff separately. This could be because the person is still trying to pull their arms round in which case they still need to be held, which means that the officers are unable to get their cuffs to apply them. In addition to the issue of getting handcuffs out, when your own adrenalin is pumping it is very difficult to apply them without catching clothing, their skin or your skin so if possible it's much better to have someone else do it.

While someone is on the floor in the prone position (face down) one of the most dangerous situations we have to consider is positional asphyxia, where the chest is compressed by their own mass or the weight of officers pressing on them, meaning that the person on the floor cannot breathe. This is the main reason that we tell people to calm down and stop resisting so they relax, meaning we can get them off the floor or put them in a better position (on the side similar to the recovery position) so they can breathe much easier. The last thing anyone would expect us to do is just stand up and leave someone alone who is violently thrashing on the floor, as I said already this can cause more injuries, it also looks seriously unprofessional just letting someone thrash about in handcuffs with everyone watching them.

Positional asphyxia has caused some people to die at the scene or soon after (up to 24 hours in some cases) where a lack of oxygen to the brain creates medical problems that were not there, or in some circumstances aggravated ones that were. If someone has been trashing about on the floor or in a violent struggle before hand, the oxygen deficit is huge and even a small amount of pressure can restrict the ribcage. One of the stages that can occur before unconsciousness is a violent outburst of strength. This is basically the bodies last ditch effort to get air in the lungs and oxygen to the brain and can be a subconscious action, the problem for us however is that it is impossible to tell a conscious struggle from an unconscious one.

In order to reduce the risk of positional asphyxia, the easiest way is to get the person cuffed and controlled immediately. Sometimes this can mean six officers on one person, which can look bad to those who have no idea what has been or is going on. The public perception of this is nothing compared to that of a death in custody and the inquest later. One of the main justifications for the Police use of Taser for violent or armed suspects is that it is a form of instant pain compliance, which does not need officers to be virtually sitting on and crushing a suspect while they are handcuffed.

It is much better to use a weapon that has immediate effect, does not contaminate anyone else, and has virtually no risk of broken bones - apart from falling to the ground. I personally would much rather see someone controlled or dropped instantly with a Taser than jumped by five or six blokes who have nothing more than a steel bar, brute force or a chemical agent that is more likely to effect them than the suspect. The risk of injury is considerably lower if you actually look at all the tactical options and risk related to each one properly - especially as word of mouth has already seen the threat of Taser to be more effective than virtually anything else.


Ex-RUC said...

I well remember young yobs boasting about how it took five peelers to get them in the Landrover. Of course, one officer could have disabled him by hitting him - hard - with his baton but our duty of care requires minimum force to be used in effecting an arrest.

Anonymous said...

I have to confess to leaving physical force until quite late in the day to contain suspects, it might be due to my boundless patience in explaining what's going to happen and why.

I always like it when you chase and detain after a struggle and then in custody the suspect smiles as you hand him a brew and congratulates you on a good scrap ;)

(Well, all once that that happened :P)


Metcountymounty said...

Nys, agreed about the brew thing, although I've found it's usually either the hardcore who play it like the game it is, or serving members of our great Armed Forces that don't mind a bit of a scrap and often expect it, with no hard feelings afterwards!

Sevesteen said...

Comedian Ron White on getting arrested: "I didn't know how many of 'em it would take to kick my ass....but I knew how many they were gonna use."

I would usually expect the right number to be "all available that will fit". The quicker you end it, the less anyone will get hurt.

ouch! said...

I remember being pushed when i was a wannabe scrote/ general knob jockey by a copper a lot smaller than me. Jesus, I nearly ended up back in the birth canal it was that hard. I hit the floor and stayed there.

cramerj said...

What do you do if they say they have chest pain , can't breath or someshuch?

Stuart McIntyre said...

I can certainly see why the more the merrier approach is preferred in these situations.

However Hip Dislocation! that sounds terrifying wouldn't you be terrified that you could damage the femoral artery? (I suppose they would stop struggling soon after!)

The force required must be substantial to tear through the ligaments and it must take months to recover.

Anonymous said...

Another accurate post - and no whining about the boring stuff.
Too true about it only be the old school or the armed Forces boys who like a scrap - we have Matloes and Squaddies and they know the unwritten rules - no spitting, no attacking wpc's for them - no dogs for us :)
It's the burberry scum who don't play by the rules - they spit ( which is bad),punch the fairer sex ( which again is a bad move becuase our Dorris are blinkin' hard) and think that walking up and punching a 65 yr old is great, especially if they can away before the old boy knows whats hit him.
Seeing how the Spanish police react to violence offered to them I say we go too soft too often.

Metcountymounty said...

Stuart - I was being sarcastic about the hip dislocation...

cramerj - if someone is genuine and they are in pain then we'll deal with it by trying to put them into a position where the pressure is eased off. Just as it's easy to tell when someone is lying through their teeth, it's easy to tell when someone is genuinely in pain or they are just screaming out for the crowd to hear

Stuart McIntyre said...

I feel like a porper fool now!

orac said...

You sound so clinical about this. is it possible to be so clinical in a real life situation? i don't think so

Metcountymounty said...

orac - it's not clinical, it's planned, trained for and used constantly. Obviously there are times when things go wrong but considering the number of people who get arrested each year and do have to be taken to the floor (most drunks and all violent suspects) the public don't hear about it going wrong because the system works well. It's only when it goes wrong and someone gets injured or killed do the public hear about it or even care.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, nice to see it being explained for once instead of the usual forum of the press where we just get told it's ' police brutality'. Force is only used when necessary and when other options fail or are not practical to use. Those out there who cannot accept this need to come and do a weekend late / night shift on the frontline every now and then.

Having said that, there is a certain amount of pleasure gained from speaking with the victim of genuine wife beater to be told 'He'll kick off, it will need more than just you' as you know then that there is a good chance (given half a chance) that they are going to experience a little of the pain that they have inflicted over the years. Of course these people are bullies and cowards so come quietly most of the time but every now and then 'little man syndrome' takes over and it's their turn to be humiliated for once!

orac said...

unemotional planned and calculated. like i said, clinical. anyway the numbers don't add up, you cannot put half a dozen coppers per punter on a busy saturday night. not enough police. so what happens then?

For The People said...

Yeah but all of them go home safe?

Metcountymounty said...

orac - simple answer is we run out of people. Each bod arrested will have one arresting officer, depending on how serious the incident most will do arrest or use of force notes. By dealing with the incident quickly and showing that we will deal with it quickly, we are able to get the other officers free to carry on but given that each arrest is usually 4 hours or so to process if everyone gets one or sometimes more arrests a night then we run out of people. This happens nearly every night in most places given the rediculously low numbers of officers actually deployed to answer 999 calls and deal with disorder. The alternative however is we stand back and let everything go in which case we might not as well be there. At least if we do and show we will step in and deal with it then the odds are people will back off while we are there. I've seen places left to 'go native' for a couple of months and it takes either a serious hammering over a couple of weeks, or months of normal policing to get it back to a modicum of civility.

anon 1630 - I'm with you all the way on wifebeaters. Only ever had one actually try and take me on when we've turned up, most backed down and a few cried when they realised what was going on. That said I've had a couple of the wives and even kids turn on us but that's all part of domestics. Never been a big fan of those jobs to be honest. Some 17 year old (who bloody called us in the first place) tried to put a screwdriver in my neck. Had my mate not seen him and smacked him in the gob first I would have been in the shit bigstyle. His dad was a prick so I guess it ran in the family.

Louise said...

We did a 'Management of Aggression' module in our ambualance training. Basicaly it was a martial arts expert (also paramedic) telling us to not get in that situation or if you find the situation 'escalating' to run away.

After this inspiring lecture we were shown several 'break away techniques' none of which I could remember now if my life depended on it.

I have long nails to scratch with, teeth to bite with and carry an oxygen cylinder in a handy 'swingable to head height' size.

I repeated several times during the afternoon's course, when asked "What are you going to do in this situation?"...... My reply was........ "Kick them in the balls and run!"

Glad we have you guys for back up when needed, you do it so much better then we ever could!

Metcountymounty said...

Louise, as a paramedic (or trainee technician!!) if you are attacked on duty (or anywhere for that matter) then forget all that crap they teach you in the class room as you will not remember any of it when it comes to needing to use it.

You are allowed in law to do anything reasonable in the circumstances to escape or prevent attack, and especially being female then that means use whatever you have, and that includes a pre-emptive strike if you can honestly say that you felt he person was going to attack you. kick them in the bollocks, nails in the eyes, teeth in anything soft or just grab, twist and pull anything you can get hold of!!

If you believe that it is what you needed to do to escape then I would be extremely surprised for the CPS let alone a jury to consider prosecuting you for it. Also I have seen an O2 cylinder to wonders to stop someone in their tracks!

There is an often heard saying in the Police "it's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six" If the choice is face a bollocking or even the sack/court for defending yourself or face injury and even death, then I know which one I'd choose if I was able to.

TonyF said...

It is much better to use a weapon that has immediate effect, does not contaminate anyone else, and has virtually no risk of broken bones - apart from falling to the ground. I personally would much rather see someone controlled or dropped instantly with a Taser than jumped by five or six blokes who have nothing more than a steel bar, brute force or a chemical agent that is more likely to effect them than the suspect. The risk of injury is considerably lower if you actually look at all the tactical options and risk related to each one properly - especially as word of mouth has already seen the threat of Taser to be more effective than virtually anything else.

I agree wholeheartedly wit this comment, But please feel free to use a 7.62mm SLR than a Taser.

Metcountymounty said...

TonyF - an SLR is massive and unfortunately wouldn't sit easily in a holder on beltkit or a vest, good thought though!!

Frost said...

Heh, just 'dry firing' a Taser (it crackles and visible sparks of electricity jump between the probes but it doesn't fire the barbs) makes most people go very quiet and listen attentively to what you want them to do...the other trick is to shout out "TASER TASER" at the top of your lungs if the real thing isn't available... except if they work out you're bluffing the shit hits the fan again.

TheBinarySurfer said...

Good post MCM, and one that you should really try and get printed in a major national newspaper tbh-answering back to the idiot articles we mostly see.

A few years ago i was over in Spain on a nice long holiday and saw a quite a few people (visiting fellow brits mostly i'm ashamed to say) arrested, and (inveitably) got to watch some live spanish police takedowns when they made the mistake of thinking the Spanish police are like ours and didn't come quietly...

Let me tell you, if you don't comply with them the first time they arrest you, you sure as hell will the second time (assuming you're not in a hospital...).

They don't muck around - a few quick baton blows to painful parts of the body which rapidly sends the message: "Keep resisting/trying to hurt me and it's you that'll get hurt. Badly."

While i understand the need to try and avoid hurting suspects due to duty of care etc (especially given the litigation culture that's so prevalent now), i can't help but wish you lot could (note COULD - i understand why you can't!) adopt their approach - lets fact it once word got around the scrotes would quickly come quietly once caught!

Anonymous said...

There is no actual reason other than a fear of being prosecuted for it to prevent a similar approach being used here. One could quite easily argue that a fully grown adult male is quite capable of causing significant injury to even several police officers, so to render him ineffective by striking to the head would be proportionate and reasonable.

It seems to be the current moral zeitgeist amongst the police is that it's better to use only just enough force to facilitate compliance, and I think we are all the better off for it.

We had a pup imported from Holland which looked like a small, completely brown with black nose, German Shepherd. The problem was that it had started it's training in Holland and kept going for the throat. They don't necessarily start at the lower end of the force spectrum elsewhere on the continent ;)


Anonymous said...

Taser - the pleasure toy of the sadist

Blue Eyes said...

I happened to see someone being tasered in the street the other day, and it looked to me like a good way of getting him cuffed - rather than being set upon by the many officers present. The officers' actions did not need further justification in my opinion, but as if to underline them the detained person started flailing violently as soon as the taser effect wore off.

I think people don't like the idea of them because they look like guns but in fact they are not like guns at all.

Hugh Oxford said...

Great post, but quick question...

Another consideration is that while most people will just watch, some will stand there screaming abuse at you because the person on the deck "ain't dun nuffink" while others will attack the officers, either because they are vulnerable or because they want the person to escape.

Why would a vulnerable person attack a policeman? Or is vulnerable another PC term that means the opposite of what it should mean?

Metcountymounty said...

Hugh, I can see the confusion, thanks, I meant the officers being vulnerable. When you're kneeling down with your head at waist height and concentrating on something and not watching your periphery, it's very easy for someone to try and give you a dig or a boot to the side of the head or try and stamp on your back, all of which I've seen and had more than once.