I. Will leisure-time martial arts training help you in a street fight?
II. Stressors besides the police often involved in sudden cardiac death
III. Spreading the word about use-of-force realities
IV. Some in the media get it

  1. Will leisure-time martial arts training help you in a street fight?

A research team wondered if officers who practice martial arts in their leisure time would perform police-trained defensive tactics better when physically attacked by a suspect.

To find out, the team tested 66 officer volunteers, 59 of them male, seven female, at the Amsterdam Police Training Centre in the Netherlands.

In addition to their police DT training, 18 practiced kickboxing and 14 karate or jiu-jitsu in their off hours, averaging two to three times a week across eight to 21 years. Fifteen practiced krav maga, the Israeli military self-defense system, although these officers had less training experience (fewer than four years, on average) and tended to practice only once a week.

The other 19 volunteers had no martial arts experience whatever, beyond their police training. In the Netherlands, the researchers point out, “officers [typically] train their arrest and self-defence skills only four to six hours per year.”

With the volunteers and role-playing opponents alike suited up in protective gear, the officers were subjected to a series of assault trials.

Under conditions the researchers considered “low anxiety” (LA), the officers had to react to suspects’ haymakers or front kicks by punching, kicking, or blocking, the normal drills taught in their police training.

Later, “high anxiety” (HA) attacks occurred in much tighter quarters. As they were led to this room, the officers could hear the suspect inside banging on walls and shouting threats. Once inside, the verbal abuse continued as the suspect randomly attacked not only with fists, feet, and tackling but with an electrical shock knife and a simulated club. Besides responding conventionally, officers were randomly told to fight back against club and tackle assaults “in any way they saw fit” to “test their ability to improvise.”

In both LA and HA tests, the officers were encouraged to “read” the suspect’s behavior and anticipate the coming attacks.

Afterward, the officers self-rated their anxiety levels and the amount of mental effort required for their responses, heart monitor readings were analyzed, and experienced trainers reviewed video of the volunteers’ performances.

Not surprisingly, participants reported “higher levels of perceived anxiety and mental effort and also had higher heart rates in the HA-condition,” the researchers state.

In terms of self-defense at both levels, officers with martial arts experience generally “performed significantly better than participants with no martial arts experience.” Indeed, in the HA environment, the evaluators gave an average score of less than three out of a possible five to subjects with no martial arts experience–“insufficient performance,” in the researcher’s assessment. However, the study notes, there was a deterioration in the performance of all groups as the intensity of the assaults increased. In HA conditions, even the best groups–kickboxing and karate/jiujitsu–scored less than four, although they did maintain their performance better than those who had only their police training to rely on.

While the generally less experienced krav maga practitioners underperformed the other martial arts students in some cases, the researchers emphasized that it’s not valid to draw conclusions from the results as to the relative effectiveness of different martial arts systems for on-the-street police work.

However, they say, the findings do indicate that training in some martial arts discipline just “one hour on a weekly basis may increase officers’ performance in threatening circumstances. More experience will probably lead to better anticipation of others’ intentions and [more automatic] self-initiation of actions, which is most important in the line of duty.”

The research team was headed by Dr. Peter Renden, a member of the faculty of Human Movement Sciences at the MOVE Research Institute in Amsterdam.

The study is published by the journal Ergonomics, under the title “Police arrest and self-defence skills: performance under anxiety of officers with and without additional experience in martial arts.” A free abstract of the study and a link to where the researchers’ full report can be purchased is available by clicking here

  1. Stressors besides the police often involved in sudden cardiac death

To learn more about a subject of growing concern to law enforcement, researchers in England and Greece pored through 2,400 cases of sudden, unexpected cardiac death (SDC) and identified 110 that occurred either during or within 30 minutes after stressful events, not all of them related to contact with police.

“An event was considered stressful if it involved physical restraint, altercation, exams/school/job stress, receiving bad news, dying in police custody,” or being in an auto accident without major injuries, the researchers explain. All cases in their pool lacked “signs of direct trauma…or other obvious causes of death.”

The researchers reviewed all available medical records and one of the study team conducted a pathological analysis of all of the victims’ hearts, although details of this component were not specified. Here are their key findings:

  • “Acute episodes of psychological stress raise blood pressure” and cause other physiological changes, including effects on the heart. “The connection between the heart and the brain has long been recognized,” the study notes. “In a setting of personal danger, or when there is a perceived threat of injury, high adrenaline surges are a physiological response, and an individual can be ‘scared to death’ or ‘die of fright.’ “
  • The main “emotional stressors” associated with SCDs were altercations (45%) and restraint against which the subject struggled (31%). Restraint, however, was initiated more often by psychiatric staff, institutional security personnel, and friends collectively than by police.
  • Sudden deaths associated with acute psychological stress tend to strike relatively younger victims. The mean age for males in the study (the vast majority) was 35 and for females, 40.
  • About 20% of the cases showed a history of psychiatric disease. All these were under medical monitoring by mental health professionals and were receiving psychiatric medication. “[I]t is well established that such patients have a higher incidence of sudden death,” the researchers write. “[A]ntipsychotic drugs further exacerbate this risk even at low doses.”
  • 25% of cases were obese.
  • About 90% tested negative for drugs or alcohol. When these substances were present, they were detected only at non-lethal levels.
  • Most subjects (60%) had a normal heart structure, with only modest minorities evidencing heart muscle abnormalities or coronary artery disease.

In summary, the researchers write, “it is important to raise awareness [about SCD] in law-enforcement agencies and mental-health facilities….

“Medico-legal autopsies are essential for the recognition and correct investigation of SCD under stress…. [T]he mechanism of sudden death under stress may be multifactorial, resulting from a cascade of predisposing risk factors…. A thorough autopsy with toxicology is therefore critical to establish the correct cause of death and, when applicable, the acquittal of police or medical psychiatric staff from any wrongdoing.”

Chris Lawrence, a use-of-force expert and trainer with the Ontario (Canada) Police College, referenced this study in his update on in-custody death research at the recent annual training conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Assn. (ILEETA), as did at least two other instructors there.

An important take-away from the study, Lawrence told Force Science News, is that “even in cases where police are not involved, people can and do suddenly and unexpectedly die from a variety of reasons.

“Some people have tried to oversimplify the SCD problem by tying it exclusively to police restraint. But it can be a lot more complex than that. Despite excellent training and a very cautious approach in dealing with and arresting suspects, there still may be an undesirable outcome–and that does not necessarily mean the police did something wrong.”

The study, headed by Dr. Lydia Krexi of the medical school at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, is titled “Sudden cardiac death with stress and restraint” and appears in the journal Medicine, Science and the Law. An abstract can be accessed free, along with a link to a paid download of the full study, by clicking here

III. Spreading the word about use-of-force realities

This week, Chris Lawrence, a faculty member for the Force Science certification course, is addressing an international conference in Germany, one of several stops on a busy itinerary to bring the realities of uses of force to select audiences.

Lawrence, a firearms instructor in the Use-of-Force Section of the Ontario (Canada) Police College, is making two presentations at the 8th European Symposium on Non-Lethal Weapons, underway in Ettlingen, Germany. This three-day conclave brings together “a range of scientists, subject matter experts, and operational practitioners” to brief law enforcement professionals, university researchers, military personnel, and other interested parties on current force issues and technologies.

Lawrence will first discuss a paper he has authored for the conference on “Lessons Learned from Deployment of Conducted Energy Weapons,” which explains, among other things, the process that has evolved in Canada for independently evaluating the effectiveness and operational characteristics of new police technology prior to its operational adoption.

For his second presentation, he’ll be joined by Sgt. Norman Wray, a UOF trainer with Ontario’s York Regional Police. They’ll describe a vehicle stop tactic developed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and adapted by York in hopes of reducing the incidence of dangerous pursuits and violent confrontations during arrests of impaired drivers and certain other offenders.

Earlier this month, Lawrence participated in an interactive panel discussion of “Challenges and Successes of Use-of-Force Training” at a three-day conference of the Canadian Assn. for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Ottawa, Ontario.

The panel fielded a wide range of topics, including “best practices” in UOF training, articulation issues, OIS investigations, “assumptions vs. evidence” in force confrontations, and de-escalation training. At appropriate points, Lawrence referenced Force Science research findings that are important for civilian oversight groups to understand in reviewing UOF incidents.

On June 2, Lawrence will address a gathering of attorneys at the 6th annual Law in Policing conference, sponsored in Toronto by the Canadian Institute, a think tank that monitors trends and developments in public policy, business, legal issues, and related matters.

He’ll provide a UOF update that includes recent case law and a survey of training related to when force should be used, proper de-escalation tactics, and police interactions with emotionally disturbed persons.

Lawrence can be reached at:

  1. Some in the media get it

From the weekly commentary by Bob Schieffer, longtime CBS newsman and host of “Face the Nation” (who, unfortunately, recently announced his retirement):

“I want to add a paragraph or two to the rash of stories lately about cops gone wrong. This is not about them. This is about all the cops you don’t read about. They deal much of the time with the dregs of our society. The schemers, the murderers, those who prey on the weak. And most of the time, the police deal with them humanely, and as they should.

“What we overlook is just how difficult that can be sometimes. It’s not easy to remain passive when a child-beater looks you in the eye and tells you–you have to understand, the kid was keeping him awake. It takes a lot of professional training and strong character not to respond in anger. I know, because I spent my early years [on the police beat] listening to some of these awful people. Sometimes I wanted to hit them myself. I didn’t, but it helped me understand how hard it is to do a cop’s job right. As hard as it is, the great majority of our cops still do just that.”

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