Recently the University of North Alabama Public Safety Institute
held a two-day Female Officer Survival Course. The first portion of the course was a lecture which included information on female use of force, the physical structure of women versus men, problems that women face in law enforcement and the history of women in law enforcement.
Also discussed were the size disparity between women and men and the force options that could be used by women in a possibly quicker fashion than their male opponents. If you have a 5-foot-5-inch, 115-pound female officer who enters into an altercation with a 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound man, that female officer could use force, such as a TASER®, baton or even deadly force, before a man could.
A lot of factors could come into play that would lead to this use of force, including the size disparity and the threat’s demeanor. As always, articulation of the incident on the report should show this disparity or aggressive action toward the officer. Also discussed was how helpful it can be for female officers to be associated with the training divisions of their police departments. Some trainees can relate to a female trainer when they don’t or can’t relate to a male trainer. Weapons & Duty Gear
Weapons were discussed with a primary focus on handguns. One female officer present had very small hands. She had problems gripping her department-issued Glock 22, 40 S&W. Unfortunately, there is no optional duty handgun at her department. The new Gen4 Glock has a multiple back strap frame with reduced short frame trigger mechanism housing. The multiple back strap system allows users to change the circumference of the grip to fit their individual hand size. The solution may be as simple as a new version of the exact same pistol—this is a female-specific solution.
What about other equipment such as holsters? A woman’s hips generally flare out at a different angle from a man’s, and the hips are proportionally higher on the body. That means one holster and duty belt design does not fit all. With most holsters on the market, a female officer usually gets the butt of the handgun pushed up against her rib cage. Some solutions are to have more of a drop on the holster or to position it with more of a forward tilt—enough to get it out of the ribs, but not so much so as to interfere with the console when sitting in the car.
After the lecture, low-light training was introduced. All of the popular handheld light techniques were taught. Most of the female officers commented that the Surefire Neck Index worked best for them. The Surefire Neck Index can be achieved for either right- or left-handed shooting.
Drawing your handgun and your light at the same time, the handgun goes on target. The light is in the opposite hand of the shooting hand with the bezel at the bottom of the hand. The hand comes up to the neck, knuckles against the cheekbone. Make sure the bezel is past the face so you do not shine the light into your own eyes. Activate the light, shining the beam through your sights and onto the target.
Reloading during a low-light situation was also addressed. Start by hitting the magazine release button and dropping the empty magazine. Holding your light in your hand, draw the new magazine from its pouch. Bracing the light against the magazine in an “L” shape provides a steady platform from which to reload. The new magazine goes into the handgun, and you are back in the fight. Because most women have smaller hands than men, a little more finesse is required. Using the thumb and first finger of the hand to hold the flashlight while using the rest of the hand to conduct the magazine change worked for some in the class.
The Injured-Downed Officer Rescue using patrol vehicles training came next. When using a vehicle for a rescue, three officers are needed—a driver, a passenger-cover officer and an extraction officer, who rides in the rear of the vehicle. Make sure that the rear door locks are disengaged! Ballistic vests can be draped over door panels as extra protection.
In a single-vehicle rescue, pull up beside the downed officer. The driver and passenger provide cover fire if needed. The extraction officer exits the vehicle and pulls the downed officer into the rear seat of the vehicle.
The lifting of the downed officer from the ground is where female-officer-oriented techniques can be helpful. Male officers may have the upper body and leg strength to just grab the deadweight dummy (in a training scenario) one-handed and power lift it into the vehicle. However, most women and some smaller stature men simply don’t have that kind of strength. This is where it becomes all about using the proper technique.
The female officers were taught to exit the vehicle and approach the downed officer. Next the female officer scoops the fallen officer from behind with her hands through his armpits, pressing the officer’s body to hers. You should lift with the legs, not the back. Raise the officer’s upper body off the ground, hugging him to you, and walk backwards to the vehicle.
Then sit down in the rear of the vehicle as far inside as possible. Still holding the officer to your chest, lie back to arch the downed officer’s body off the ground. This will usually clear the officer’s feet off the ground enough to extract him from the area. If not, the female officer should move deeper inside the vehicle with the downed officer.
With the V-shaped rescue, you use two vehicles instead of one. The two vehicles are staffed the same as the single rescue vehicle. Both vehicles drive toward the downed officer, coming to a stop in front of the officer with the front bumpers as close as possible, forming a V-shaped stop. Again, both the driver and the passenger officers provide cover fire if needed while the extraction officers load the downed officer into the vehicle. It helps to have a second extraction officer if possible.
The extraction training scenario involves safely removing a deadweight dummy from inside a vehicle. Again, two patrol vehicles are used. However, this time the rescuing patrol vehicle pulls up alongside the downed officer’s vehicle. This causes a vehicle to be placed between the rescue area and the threat.
The defensive tactics portion of the course began with a refresher in the expandable baton and use-of-force before proceeding to the practical exercises, which included strikes (open and closed baton), arm bars and locks, and offense with the baton. Two techniques were taught in how to open the baton.
The first procedure was to open the baton upwards. The officer draws her baton and, with a strong overhead motion, opens the baton. Then the officer comes to a combat stance, ready to deploy the baton. The second procedure was to open it to the ground. The officer draws the baton and, with a strong hand motion, opens the baton toward the ground, followed by a combat stance. With most friction lock batons, a strong, straight downward motion with the tip of the baton will close it.
With a generally smaller frame structure and generally less upper body strength, it is more important for female officers than male officers to follow the proper technique. (More strength may allow a poorer technique to be successfully used, while less strength requires that the proper technique be performed.) A good combat stance starts with having your feet shoulder-width apart, a strong foot behind, a slight bend in the knees and keeping the balance centered. During a strike, a female officer should rotate her hips and strike with the last 3 inches of the baton to deliver the most transformation of power.
Baton training was completed with the “mad minute,” an exercise in which officers must defend themselves with a baton for 60 seconds to simulate the time that a responding officer may take to reach them. Once the clock starts, the attacker engages the officer with the impact bag. The officer must keep the threat off of her using strikes with an open baton until backup officers arrive. There were some very aggressive ladies in this class.
The next portion of the class focused on spontaneous knife defense. To round out the defensive tactics portion of the class, each female officer participated in practical exercises involving spontaneous knife defense, balance displacement, arm locks, handcuffing and joint locks with bigger, stronger subjects, as well as in awkward positions. This reinforces techniques that are taught in the academy and applies them in real world situations. Before long, the smallest woman in the class had the male instructor in pain and tapping out.
The first couple of shooting exercises were done to judge basic marksmanship and weapon-handling skills. A refresher on reloading and malfunction drills followed. Once everyone was confident in their weapons again, more advanced drills were performed. One of the most important involved a scenario in which officers lay on their backs on the ground as if they had just been knocked off their feet. The officers had to rise up enough to safely place rounds into the threat. It is critically important for officers to keep their legs down and feet on the ground to avoid being shot by their own rounds.
The drill had many stages: supine, left and right shoulder, prone and upside-down. The female officers started in the supine position, then rolled to the left shoulder, and then the right shoulder. Differences in body features between male and female officers requires an adjustment of shooting position or grip. Shifting slightly off the ground may help with shot placement.
This course emphasized two points. First, some techniques originally developed for male officers must be very closely followed to be successful for female officers. Second, of course, was that what works for male officers may not always work for female officers, and female officers should always be looking for what will work best for them.
Bobby Inman started his law enforcement career in July 1995. He developed and started the North Alabama Law Enforcement Training Center in 2004.