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Training For Injury

Training that teaches us how to act and defend ourselves when injured is not addressed enough in our field. Being prepared to protect yourself while injured should be part of every agency’s training curriculum. The following is a series of exercises that can make a real difference for officers who must complete their mission while impaired by injury to some degree. They address core tasks with various levels of immobility. By having personnel train under these conditions, they can be better prepared to defend themselves, reduce panic and coordinate backup and medical assistance.

The Single Arm

Whether experiencing a broken arm or a seriously torn ligament from an assault or a car accident, an officer could find himself confronted with the use of only one arm. Even more problematic is if the available arm happens to be his support arm, for instance, a right-handed person working with only his left arm. Although more difficult, a prepared officer using good stance and balance can still defend himself reasonably well while utilizing various force options available to him.

The single arm portion of the training is designed to prepare an officer for an injury to either arm. It starts with having the officer restrain one arm to his duty belt. A handcuff, soft rope or other restraint device can be used. Once restrained, the officer will complete a list of exercises. Once completed, the other arm is restrained and the officer will conduct the same series of exercises. The training can begin with either arm.

For the exercises, start with hand strikes to a heavy bag or a training mannequin. An initial assault by a combative suspect may leave an officer with an immediate need for counter strikes and blocks. Hand strikes such as punches and palm heel strikes are practical techniques. This can be followed up with forward and reverse elbow strikes, which are particularly effective for close engagements where a suspect tries to tie up an officer or take him to the ground.

Eye strikes should be practiced which can temporarily blind or disable a bad guy and help balance the situation for the officer who is already at a disadvantage due to injury. Emphasis should be placed on stance and balance, which will feel different with an arm pinned to the side.

Focus should also be on target acquisition and strike precision as that same hand and arm must work both offensively and defensively. Because an officer may have to deflect incoming strikes, blocking techniques such as a side block or trap should be worked in open air drills.

Next, work on kicks and knee strikes to a heavy bag. Legs can be effective and valuable weapons, particularly when the use of one arm is taken out of the equation. Basic kicks, in which an officer strikes with the ball of his foot while having the available arm in a defensive position, are easy to practice, and more importantly, are easy to remember. Kick work should not be limited to standing position stances but should include bag work from the ground.

Next, the headbutt. If you are close to your attacker or on the ground struggling with him, a well-placed headbutt could provide space from the assailant. The headbutt could be practiced on a training mannequin or a heavy bag. It is important to have an instructor who is familiar with these types of strikes nearby, because if done improperly, it is the officer who could get knocked out instead of the assailant. Using a soft training aid such as a small cushion with a target taped on it is a good start and allows for a safe margin of error to limit injury to the officer.

Then, deploy OC spray. Having to draw and deploy an empty OC canister with only your non-dominant hand can take time. Preparation and practice can reduce that time. Depending on the layout of an officer’s belt, getting to his OC may require a behind-the-back draw. But it is this type of training during which an officer can learn what works best for him instead of trying to figure it out for the first time during an actual encounter.

Get to the baton. Having the use of this control measure can help you balance when you don’t have use of both arms to protect yourself. Once drawn, the officer should work strikes against a heavy bag and practice defensive blocks against a padded stick. It is important during these baton strikes that the officer quickly returns to a defensive position for further counter strikes or defensive blocks.
By not having the other arm to block with, the officer is more vulnerable and must rapidly reposition to protect himself. Using basic forward and reverse spinning strikes, combined with middle and low blocks to counter punches and kicks, is a good offensive and defensive plan.

Ground Defense

With one arm immobilized, it can be difficult to work off the ground. Officers should set up ground positions where their legs and available arm provide defensive protection. The officer should imagine turning and spinning on an axis through his center. By having the legs pulled back and ready to kick, the officer presents an imposing target, as an assailant will have to take a kick to the knee or solar plexis (dependent on officer flexibility) if he gets too close.

Staying on the ground, though, is not always the best spot for officers to be for too long. Getting back on their feet quickly to limit exposure to a tackle or strike should also be practiced.

Drawing the handgun is critical. Officers should practice drawing their duty weapon from both standing and ground positions. When drawing with their support hand, officers will likely have difficulty actually getting their duty handgun from the holster. During this time, they will have no hands available to defend themselves, and thus it is important that they have some defensive work done with their legs.

Officers will likely rush in trying to get their weapon out and could end up fumbling and dropping it. This would be natural based on the circumstances, and this is why a lot of repetitions should be practiced for smoother movement and control. Also, an injured officer may cause an assailant to consider disarming him.

Weapon retention should also be worked in during this portion. By using his only available arm to temporarily pin and control the suspect’s hand against his duty weapon (thus preventing its removal from the holster), the officer can utilize his legs to counter-attack the assault against him. Some of the leg strikes to consider are knee kicks to the groin area or common peroneal, foot stomps to the feet and shin scrapes to the shins. These strikes can weaken the suspect’s grip on the officer’s weapon and allow the officer to retain control of his weapon. (The techniques used for the TASER® would be similar to those practiced for the officer’s handgun.)

Practice reloading. Because an officer could find himself in a situation where he would have to reload his handgun or TASER, some practice in reloading would be useful. Officers who find drawing a handgun or TASER with only one hand challenging may find loading a magazine or cartridge just as interesting an exercise. Officers should practice drawing their portable radios or keying the shoulder microphone and actually verbalizing the transmission.

An Immobilized Leg

An injury to an officer’s leg could result from a pulled muscle during a foot chase. It is here that a suspect could suddenly turn on the injured officer and attack. Despite the pain from the injury and a potential loss of balance, an officer can still present an effective defense if prepared.

This portion is designed to prepare an officer for an injury to either leg. It begins with having one of the officer’s knees placed in a straight leg position where it can’t be bent. A board about the length of an officer’s leg from mid-thigh to ankle can be used. The board should be wrapped in towels and then tied along the officer’s leg to prohibit a normal leg bend. Officers can then practice the same exercises from the single arm section with the exception of the kicks and knee strikes.

If an officer pulls a leg muscle, he may continue to follow a suspect in a limited capacity to provide intelligence to responding officers. Officers should practice a walking and trotting exercise to acclimate them to limited leg mobility. This can be done in a straight line or adjusted cone formations.

Vision Reduction

During a confrontation with an out-of-control suspect, an officer may spray that suspect with OC. If the OC gets into one or both of the officer’s eyes, he may find his vision compromised. Despite a partial loss of vision, a police officer can rely more on his other senses along with his training to effectively defend himself.

This portion is designed to prepare officers for situations where their sight is limited. This could also result from a low-light or no-light condition or injury to an eye. By using a blindfold to cover one eye, officers should practice the exercises from the single arm portion of the training. Officers can also practice grappling with both eyes closed. They will find that positioning and touch can be effective in controlling a suspect.

Hearing Loss

An officer may lose some or all of his hearing during an incident. This could result from such situations as loud, close proximity gunfire or injury to an ear. Not having the use of one’s ears can cause problems in general perception and communications. By using ear muffs or plugs similar to those used in the range, officers can simulate hearing loss.

Begin with room entries in use-of-force scenarios. Officers working in two- or three-man teams with one officer wearing ear plugs can make room entries where they may have to engage violent subjects. By relying on their other senses and the teamwork of their partners, officers can successfully accomplish their assignments.

Then, do portable radio transmissions. Without the use of their ears, officers should practice timing their radio transmissions to allow them to provide information while still allowing those on the other radios to give dispatchers the opportunity to provide important radio traffic.

Preparation is the Key

As thousands of officers get assaulted on an annual basis, it is likely that some of them will sustain injuries during these confrontations. And depending on the length of time involved, some of these assaults may require an officer to defend himself while injured. If prepared, an officer can still be effective even if sustaining an injury.

Training programs that incorporate exercises for possible injuries can make a difference. This type of training allows an officer to recognize that he can still protect and defend himself well even when experiencing some type of immobilization. It can build confidence and help reduce panic for an officer who may become injured during a tour of duty and must still accomplish his objectives.

Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2010

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