Law Enforcement and Martial Arts – the “Best” Connection? – Part 3

This post is also available in: Italian

…this is PART 3 and the final article of this 3 part series.

Shihan Pascetta - circa 1975

Liability Issues

A significant issue that has come to the forefront concerning LE physical encounters is that of both Criminal and Civil Liability. The proper “Use of Force” has advanced “front and center” as a primary concern. Along with other changes in the society where we presently live, this new “information age” presents unique challenges where any of us could be taped on a video with a cell phone and end up on “You Tube” within minutes of the occurrence.

Changing Society

The United States has become an ever increasing litigious society with less and less respect and consideration for the LE officer.  Many times the officer has only seconds to make a decision that may affect his safety and/or of that of others while the news media and even the courts have days, weeks, and months to scrutinize every little nuance of those decisions. Although some laws and precedents exist that provide some support for the officer who acts within the law, the experience of enduring all the public and legal scrutiny following any questionable encounter can be career changing for many officers. It can also quickly and easily undermine the credibility and effectiveness of any given LE agency.

Part of the potential problem and solutions concerning liability again begin with basic DT training and the maintenance or lack of the same.  Statistically, most physical encounters involving LE officers only require a small amount of force, yet the present training provided commits little or minimal time for perfecting techniques, tactics, and/or strategy for these more common occurrences.  Even more alarming is the fact that very few agencies have required regular maintenance of the DT skills initially taught to recruits in the academy.

It seems foolish to expect that the training received over a brief period of weeks and minimal hours of instruction could remain sharp and effective for an entire LE career. Previously, I compared the lack of DT maintenance training with the regularly required firearms training. The first is a skill set sometimes necessary for use on a daily basis whereas, hopefully, the latter may occur infrequently or never in an average officer’s career.

Further, those systems that do emphasize minimal physical force are most times quite different and separate from those taught emphasizing moderate force, significantly higher level force, and/or  survival level force.

In examining LE/DT training closer one will discover that the various necessary subjects such as hand gun retention, partner/team coordination, handcuffing, baton, expandable baton, side-handle baton, OC spray, ground defense, 3rd party intervention, multiple opponents, crowd control, etc, all seem to be taught as separate systems and are rarely have continuity with the others. Not only is this an inefficient practice but it also becomes difficult if not impossible for the trainee to learn an entirely different approach for each of these types of situations.

The unfortunate reality is that each officer has a limited amount of time to include the multiple activities he must perform in order to maintain himself professionally. Given the present structure and modes of instruction, it is simply unrealistic to expect any trainee to become effective in all areas. Unless he/she personally and/or privately invests a significant amount of time learning and perfecting each skill set, this will simply not happen; especially when he/she must learn a relatively new skill set with each new area of physical training.


It would make much more sense for each of these specialties to be built upon the same basic foundational movements and primary skills. This hypothetical structure would create a training matrix that would continue to reinforce the previous skills and thereby expand the officer’s awareness and skill set with each added module. There are a few very limited systems of training available that actually have made some attempts to provide more continuity. However, it is unfortunate that many of the foundational techniques taught in those existing systems are quite archaic and (quite frankly) are inefficient, ineffective, and impractical.

One of the biggest obstacles to accomplishing this type of structure and training matrix remains with the process of selecting the MA and/or LE professional/professionals who have the broad expanse of knowledge and experience necessary to build such a modern modularized approach. Unfortunately, too many times this is largely a political process rather than a merit based selection. The success of a more modern innovative approach could seriously be undermined if the personnel selected to create and initiate this type of approach were not versatile in both traditional and cutting edge technical skills, liability issues, as well as instructor development.

In my opinion, the best case scenario for selection would be to have any qualified candidate (LE professional or civilian) present a model of his/her comprehensive program, demonstrate the various physical aspects, and offer a proposed structural plan of how to implement it. This should include both the core training program as well as a structure for the training and enrichment of other instructors who, hypothetically, would be trained to teach the proposed program.

Once a Training Director and training prototype was selected it would then be necessary to codify it, adjust for any liability concerns, implement it, train other LE instructors in this method, set benchmarks for periodically review, and establish a process to continue to refine it over time. This should be an ongoing process based on thorough research combined with firsthand experience.

It is alarming that this area of training that is so critical for any officer when performing his daily responsibilities has been given such little priority. The fact that the present requirements for assignment to such critical job as training our men/women in uniform is as little as a handful of 1 to 4 day courses demonstrates the lack of understanding and/or interest in the safety of our uniformed public servants.

Is a progressive overhaul of the process too unrealistic to expect? Are our LE agencies so limited in resources or too out of touch with real life needs to make a commitment to this more comprehensive approach?

Budget Issues

It would seem that one of the other obstacles to this major revamping of LE/DT training is having the budget necessary to hire the best people to do such a job. One argument in favor of budgeting such training should rightly be to factor in the expected savings. Some potential savings are quite probable due to those trainees who now are less likely to be injured (due to poor or improper training).

What is the cost incurred when a LE agency loses an officer due to injury? In addition to his medical costs his position must still be covered while he recovers, assuming he will recover. In effect, the agency is paying for two officers at the same time. The injured officer continues to receive some level of pay and the replacement officer must also be compensated, sometimes at overtime pay rates!

Further, practical administrators need to calculate the value of “Use of Force” lawsuits avoided.  In reality, the cost of successfully defending even one “Use of Force” lawsuit would likely equal the entire training budget for an entire LE department for 5 to 10 years or even longer.  The cost of defense in a lawsuit where the officer and/or department are found negligent is likely to be even greater.

What many administrators do not consider is their exposure to liability from “Failure to train” lawsuits. Each agency has the obligation to provide adequate training giving the officer the necessary skills and tools to do his job effectively.  In the past it was easier for many departments to “put a band aid” on this requirement by providing the minimal training available and using this as a defense that they had done their “due diligence”.  Clever attorneys today can easily demonstrate that many of these antiquated programs are anything but “best practices”.

Ultimately, how much value can be placed on the positive change in general positive public image that would be improved if close to 100% of our LE officers were better trained to handle physical confrontations in this manner? Isn’t the change in public image one of the primary underlying causes of more and more police vs. civilian confrontations?

Administrative Fears

It appears there may be a number of potentially valid concerns the political powers that control the spending for training may well hold. These may be part of what has  caused some apprehension to providing more extensive DT training for LE. One of these concerns may very well be that those civilian administrators speculate that the more tactical skills provided LE personnel, the more likely those officers may be to resort to using physical force. Perhaps this concern occurs because they may not understand that a more thoroughly trained and confident officer is less likely to use force when he has been empowered with a multitude of other options!

Consequently, it is my opinion that a thorough review of “Use of Force” guidelines should be included  in every training module that is part of DT training. From my experience, what seems most absent is where the trainees are instructed in a manner that creates and reinforces a mental connection between the specific techniques, tactics, and methods applied. Many times the “Use of Force” part of the training is separate with a limited number of examples taught to the trainees. What is necessary is that each trainee can envision the legal range and/or limitation of any  and every physical skill he/she is taught along with its likely physical potential and limitations.

Further, when the officer is thoroughly trained in “justifiable”, low level force techniques that are functional, he is also less likely to use excessive force in an encounter.  And ultimately, if the officer is taught a system of DT that smoothly transitions from low level force to situations requiring either moderate or even high level force, we will have given him/her the tools necessary to protect himself, his colleagues, the public, and even his career beyond the heat of any given confrontation.

Included in all DT training should be another under-emphasized area of DT training; the “de-escalation” of force. The training emphasis on minimal force along with pertinent practical guidelines, drilling of realistic scenarios, and practicing the judgment necessary for either legitimate escalation of force or de-escalation of force, provide the arsenal that could advance our modern day LE professionals in a manner beneficial to all.

This is potentially an empowerment that is not only limited to physical safety, but also safety from civil liability, and safety from the stress that follows when an officer and/or  agency is publicly scrutinized for physical actions. Further, it is important to remember that we are ultimately here to serve the public. These result of these suggestions would clearly be a welcome “breath of fresh air” even to those civilians most critical of our LE personnel.

As previously mentioned, the numbers demonstrate financially that is it less expensive to train an entire department in “justifiable force DT” along with regular maintenance than it is to defend one civil lawsuit involving “excessive force”. That also doesn’t take into account the bad PR that allegations of “police brutality” bring onto any particular LE agency and its administrators. This is simply common sense.

Officer Initiative

This discussion would not be complete without acknowledging the many LE officers who take the individual initiative to seek private training on their own time and at their own expense. These modern “blue warriors” deserve much credit for their professional dedication and commitment to professional excellence. Unfortunately, this is but a percentage of those in uniform for various legitimate reasons.

Further, as long as this training is inconsistent throughout any agency, there still remains a safety gap whenever a thoroughly trained officer must perform along side of or in tandem with a minimally trained officer. The other fallacy that comes with individual training is that many officers choose Martial Arts systems that are not practical for LE situations, conditions, and/or legal limitations.

The unfortunate fact is that many LE officers do not have the financial means to pay for this type of training. Others cannot spare the extra time away from their families in addition to their arduous and changing work schedule. And others have personal obligations that require them to work as  much overtime as possible or even additional side work in order to provide for their families. This are some of the realities of life, so the real issue asks the question, why isn’t the best DT training provided in the Police Academies and when it is, why is there little  or no in service upgrade training and/or maintenance training provided for our officers?

It could be argued that ” a little of something  is better a lot of nothing”, however, sometimes officers are taught just enough to cause themselves more grief not less grief. This is likely to occur when they are privately taught  impractical methods, ineffective techniques, or extreme techniques.

This type of training may, unfortunately, give the  officer a false sense of confidence that could easily place him/her in a worse predicament during attempted application. In the other direction, there is also a possibility that an officer may react with excessive force during a confrontation due to the tendency for a person to perform in the manner they are trained. This is more likely when a person is trained in a more “extreme” approach to Martial Arts.

One final concern it the risk that the LE professional takes during private training. This, again, is more likely to occur during training provided by Martial Arts instructors who emphasize a more “realistic” or “street ready” form of self defense. I personally functioned as an expert witness in “Use of Force” lawsuits.  In one particular case an officer was paralyzed from the neck down only weeks after he began training in a private martial arts school under an instructor well known for his “realistic approach to training.

This permanent injury occurred because the officers were permitted by this “reputable” instructor to grapple competitively very early in his training at that private Martial Arts school. It is understandable why the tendency toward a more “macho” approach may be  more tempting  to robust officers who face the reality of street confrontation every day.

This type of problem begins with the misconception that training must include competitive contact from the beginning. In any discipline one must crawl first, then walk, then run before entering the 100 meter race. The tendency for the less experienced instructor or the “macho” instructor to attempt to impress his LE trainees with more extreme training is not uncommon.

I have seen the same is certain police academies where certain DT instructors are almost legendary for their “tough” approach. The untold stories of these types of situations are the number of officer trainees who are injured in training and then must leave the academy, to either heal from their injuries, or perhaps never return to police work.

In my opinion, the instructor who is truly a Master has the confidence in his program and does not need to magnify it to get approval.  He does not have to “rough up’ the trainee to demonstrate the effectiveness of his training methods or skills. He places the trainees’ safety ahead of his own.  Rather than risk injury to any trainee he will disengage during any risky maneuver rather than try to “prove” himself.

This type of professional instructor knows that he is the one responsible to set the pace and for the safety and wellbeing of those entrusted to him for training. The long term results speak for his expertise and this can be examined by observing the balanced and capable students he produces. Further, there is almost never an injury when this type of program is taught because the true Master knows how to motivate his students without placing them in training situations before they are ready and/or before it is safe for them to practice in any particular manner.

Ultimately, the chance of injury to officers in training is another administrative concern. It can easily be understood why any LE administrator might hesitate to approve or to budget for additional DT training due to concerns for loosing personnel to training injuries. Unless the instructors charged with the responsibility for safe training methods can demonstrate the correct combination of realism in training with progressive training that is both controlled and safety conscious, then it is likely this legitimate concern will continue to present yet another obstacle for our LE professionals to receive the “best” training.


While there are many LE officers and trainers who have dedicated much time and passion to this area and deserve much credit for those efforts, there is clearly much room for improvement. It is the hope of this author that these ideas and opinions are interpreted as objective and constructive critique.

This article is written with the sincere intention to be used as motivation for positive scrutiny and advancement of the training that our men and women wearing the uniform while putting their own safety and lives in jeopardy rightfully deserve.

GOD bless all of our Law Enforcement officers and keep them safe.


Copyright 2010, R.V.Pascetta, all rights reserved.

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