Sweep the Leg, Johnny Law…

A piece was recently published on Policeone, addressing why law enforcement trainers should rethink  teaching leg sweeps to officers…

This seemingly reasonable and well thought-out article could in fact serve as Exhibit One in exactly what is wrong with police defensive tactics training today, and with how many defensive tactics trainers think. Or re-think as it were.

The upshot is that most officers are poorly trained. Leg Sweeps are a technical skill. Those poorly trained in leg sweeps could cause injury when using the technique. And then they could be sued. One example of a lawsuit is provided. In that suit it was not even the technique that caused injury, but the fact that the officer fell onto the subject after performing it.

So, we should stop teaching leg sweeps…

This is an institutionalized, overly liability-averse approach to defensive tactics all too common with the subject matter experts teaching defensive and arrest and control tactics to the majority of police officers. It smacks of the similar issue surrounding the use of carotid restraints – many years ago some poorly trained officers hurt or killed individuals using “choke holds,” leading them to eventually be labeled as “deadly force” and banned from the curriculum of many agencies. Never mind that when trained and applied properly it was a highly effective technique, causing no injury and that in the ensuing years several programs of instruction developed and certified officers in carotid techniques that, not surprisingly, did not end up as deadly force.

In the end, more concentrated training and certification led to more effective and less injurious technique…


This is not to say that good sense arrived and saved the day, I work for an agency that routinely uses it with no injuries caused, and we share a county – and several combined units – with an agency that bans it and calls it deadly force. Does that make any sense?

So the message is: train your cops more and they will have more options, and greater levels of skill at lower levels of force that will help prevent either improper applications or escalation to deadly force.

Instead of taking away yet another effective tactic because a few officers perform it poorly enough to injure someone, how about we just give more relevant training?

 Fear of liability should be the last thing on the officer’s mind when using force. They should trust that they have been given professional training, with sufficient time and repetitions in effective techniques that are tested and applied in context using reasonable decision making. No officer should be thinking  “if I screw this up – because I only practiced an hour last year – I could inadvertently kill or seriously injure someone.”

The author’s alternative is the good ol’ fashioned arm bar. Okay. At least there we have a technique that does not require practice, can’t inadvertently injure someone, can’t…

You see where I am going with this….

If we chase the liability dragon to that extent, the police will end up unable to use force of any kind…..at one time lawsuits related to handcuffing were the rage – shall we no longer handcuff people?  Almost every single time an officer discharges a firearm they and their agency are sued….the vast majority of which are reasonable and necessary uses of force, and agencies still pay out – should we cease using firearms because their use leads to lawsuits?

Police training is broken. This is rapidly becoming common knowledge with the increased scrutiny of recent years. The way to fix it is not pare away more and more because officers have not been trained well enough. It is to confront the reality that things are where they are, and admit that the remedy is easily implemented with a political will to spend more money and better account for training time. The alternative has been increasingly shown to be unworkable when it matters most.





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