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Trends in Defensive Tactics

Defensive tactics, as a discipline of use of force, is truly a paradox. It is as ancient and elemental as mankind. It is also as complicated and far-reaching as body-mounted cameras and the U.S. Supreme Court. The growing body of science, litigation, policy, and training curricula dedicated to defensive tactics is voluminous and they don’t always agree.

This lack of agreement bumps up against ever-shrinking training budgets, reduced manpower, and increased staff demands. If all of that wasn’t enough, all too often our officers’ actions are tried in the court of public opinion where everybody watching use-of-force encounters from the confines of a safe and sterile environment like a desk or the couch at home seems to know better, expect more, and scream the loudest.

In an attempt to better understand how we got to this point in defensive tactics and to consider what the future may hold, we have brought together some subject matter experts who collectively have nearly 60 years of experience as both sworn members of law enforcement agencies and who long served or are still serving their agencies as DT instructors. In this first installment, we will introduce the officers who agreed to participate in an informal roundtable and discuss their early experiences.


“Tell Us a Little Bit About Your Background.”

Paul Hardy:

I retired from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department (Massachusetts) in 2014 as a Captain and Shift Commander after 20 years of service. During that time, I served as a drill instructor (5–6 years), Use of Force instructor, and eventually the lead instructor for firearms, DT, OC, and baton.

At the department, I was usually a part-time instructor TDY’ed to the academy when recruits were in session or to conduct in-service training. When the training was completed, I went back inside to work. Most of my certifications came from the state or Monadnock.

Cyndi Williams:

I’ve been a law enforcement officer since 2000. Currently, I am an officer with the Key West Police Department (Florida). During my career, I’ve worked as a firearms, Taser, DT instructor, narcotics agent, and on SWAT as a team member, including now with Key West. In addition, I’m an adjunct instructor with Brevard Community College Institute of Criminal Justice; I train for some organizations including Louka Tactical; and I serve as the DT Chair for the NTOA where I also do some writing.

Steve Bisnette:

I started my career in the military with Airborne Infantry and Special Ops. From there, I went to ATF where I spent 25 years as an agent and instructor. In total, I have 30 years of government service. Shortly after I got on at ATF, I met Dr. Vance McLaughlin at Savannah Police Department who was a PPCT Staff Instructor.

Vance got me involved in PPCT where I quickly became an instructor trainer. I taught Use of Force from 1991–2014 for ATF, outside departments, and overseas contractors. I was in charge of ATF’s DT program from 2000-2005. I retired from ATF in 2014.

“Motivation can sometimes affect what we bring to the table. Why did you become a DT instructor in the first place?”

Paul Hardy:

I came from a sports background: I played football and wrestled in high school and in college so I always enjoyed the physical stuff. My academy was a good experience for me and I guess I did pretty well. Mostly though, I did it to help the guys I worked with, my fellow officers who responded to fights, and threatening situations. We always won and got the cuffs on, but there were also injuries to the staff and inmates.

Since we didn’t know a lot about leverages and pressure points, it sometimes looked more like “tackle football.” I wanted to do something about officer safety. And it worked. For a long time, we saw injuries go down on both sides. I think, too, that working inside and teaching on a part-time basis gave me a lot of credibility, which helped me and the people I trained and worked with everyday.

Cyndi Williams:

As a teenager, I trained in Tae Kwon Do. I played soccer on scholarship at St. Thomas University in Miami and now I train in Brazilian Jujitsu. Growing up in the martial arts and in sport, I was always fit and active. On top of that, teaching, in general, was always an interest of mine and a point of pride—in any field, not just law enforcement.

I think that knowledge is paramount and dynamic. Officers depend on learning and teachers/role models for their safety. Physical fitness and DT and firearms all came together for me. Teaching allowed me the opportunity to share the wealth and to be proactive in ensuring my own safety.

Steve Bisnette:

I came from a big martial arts background. In fact, I fought competitively in college—Tae Kwon Do and boxing. In the military and particularly in the Special Operations community, physical conditioning was always mandated. On top of the standards, there was a lot of peer pressure to maintain high levels of fitness. I thought it was necessary to do my job. My background in martial arts naturally flowed into DT. I was good at it (doing and teaching) and I liked it. I also taught firearms for a long time. I still teach both.

“Starting out as an instructor isn’t always easy. What were some of the challenges you faced in the beginning or later in your career?”

Paul Hardy:

The department was doing recruit training in-house when I started over 20 years ago, but it was a work in progress. The entire program was growing and lesson plans were just coming together. Depending on the administration, some of the training methods were a little “abrasive” to the people who were watching. There were also concerns about lawsuits involving both officers and inmates. At times, the union got involved.

We had everybody—command, administration and county attorneys looking at the lesson plans. What we needed was a culture change toward more, better, demanding training. Things got a little better when we moved training out of the main building. The administration eventually appreciated the benefits to the department and the changes to the officers’ performance and safety.

Cyndi Williams:

I started training other people very early in my career. In Florida, we have to be certified by the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) both as a peace officer and as an instructor. I experienced pretty quickly the different dynamics of teaching men. Sometimes men underestimate the ability of women to teach them, especially DT. As a result, I wanted to prove myself—on the job and as an instructor. It was similar to my experience in Jujitsu, where I was often the only female training on the mat.

In Jujitsu, I purposely worked with the biggest male in the room to develop my skills and to mentally prepare myself. If a much larger person was on me, I wanted to be able to train (or fight on the job) through that situation. In addition, fitness has always personally been very important to me, as is fitness for the job. So I use Jujitsu and fitness training outside the job to train for the job and to help in teaching DT.

Steve Bisnette:

Going back and forth between the military, particularly special ops, and law enforcement was difficult. A lot of people involved in law enforcement were not physically geared. My experience is there is always a resistance to do physical training, of any kind. This was very different from my military career where we had to pass a PT test or we were gone. Even later in my career, in the National Guard, PT tests were still conducted and we were expected to pass. As a result of these cultural issues, I was constantly butting heads over my personal standards for fitness and job readiness.

For a while, we had some successes in basic training. Initially, when agents were unable to pass DT at FLETC, they had to show massive improvement in their performance or they were separated. Eventually though, it got to the point where everybody passed DT. If they were separated, it was due to FLETC academics. The fitness side also didn’t get better over time: The progressively worsening physical condition of the general population was apparent in the officers we trained.

In the next installment, we will discuss with the group their early successes, some things that may not have been as effective, as well as the differences between training recruits and incumbents.


Jay Smith, M.S., C.S.C.S. is the former director of fitness for the MA POST. In his 25-year career, he has taught fitness, firearms and use of force to local, state, and federal law enforcement. Smith is the President and CEO of FitForce, Inc. and may be reached at Individual roundtable members may be contacted through Smith.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2015

Rating : 9.0

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