NW CQC Debrief: Tulsa PD Fight

Tulsa PD takedown of armed subject – this is very well done and a testament to why police officers need to be training in realistic, combat-effective, armed environment grappling that works against resistance and opposing will. One wonders why such training is not required in PDs across the nation considering outcomes like this one.

In many place this man would have been shot, absolutely justifiably, and to an uneducated public it would have looked bad. Great hay would have been made of it and public demonstrations to follow. Note that even when being controlled he was able to creep his hand toward his gun. This is what people do in real life, and that makes this a lethal encounter. 

They had probable cause to shoot him  – but they did not need to because they train in valid skillsets! Many officers will look at this and say “I woulda shot him” or even “they shoulda shot him.” They would point out that the risks of losing control of the gun even for a moment could have meant one or both of those officers could have been shot. This point of view has some merit, but we have to remember to take into account skill levels and ability to control a situation. It is absolutely correct that some officers, maybe most, should have shot this man, mainly because they would not have the ability to control the situation the way these two did.

There will doubtless be a Gracie Breakdown of this – if there isn’t already. I won’t read that, but maybe others will and see how a side-by-side comparison measures up not just in terms of technique but tactical awareness…

NW CQC Breakdown:

  • Initial contact establishes probable cause – or at least suspicion enough to detain due to the smell of marijuana. This is not as big a deal any more where I work but obviously remains the case in Oklahoma. Establishing and knowing your PC at the outset is very important as it breeds confidence.
  • Second officer has male step out – he is articulating furtive movements toward the waistband. His partner, though dealing with the first male, doubtless hears this – he looks over at him. For experienced cops this is now on the radar, even when dealing with someone else.
  • Asks “You got a gun on you?” Excellent question, despite the lie the suspect tells it means everyone on scene is aware of what is happening and cues first officer again.
  • Suspect breaks and tries to run, officer maintains connection and takes him down, suspect goes to ground first – much better than officer falling to ground first.
  • First officer puts his man down – already handcuffed, which is about the fastest cuffing job I’ve ever seen!- and comes over to help.
  • The officer grappling (back officer hereafter) takes the suspect’s back, hooks in, and begins to sink a rear strangle. While not particularly advisable in a one-on-one encounter, with a partner this makes sense because it is more controlling.*
  • Instead we have two cops who are working very well together – note that the top officer, after grounding his subject, comes in and knee pins one of the suspect’s arms while controlling the gun hand – AND he continually checks back to the car where the other subject’s are, monitoring the situation. Great tactical awareness.
  • He is also communicating very clearly “He’s got a gun, he’s going for it!” and gives updates. He wisely chooses not to relinquish control to go for his Taser (this is high level combat cognition, folks) and communicates that to his partner.
  • Top officer communicates he can’t get to his radio – yet he is not overly task-fixated on communications like so many tend to be. He is taking care of the higher priority problem.
  • Top officer communicates to a bystander that suspect has gun, and she should stay back. Once again, situational awareness in operation. He can do that because he has the skills and calm to handle the situation.
  •  Back officer gives repeated open hand blows to suspect’s face. In so doing he prevents injuring his hand, and he does not cut the suspect or his own hands which punching has a tendency to do – and which would have created a bloody mess, biohazard concerns, etc. The blows are effective and get the suspect to bring one hand up, at least. All the time he is issuing verbal commands to the suspect to stop resisting that are calm, controlled, and clear. Even a bystander begins telling the suspect to “calm down!” Bystanders don’t do this with screaming, out of control cops wilding on top of a guy.
  • Note how the officers communication, their verbal commands, and their control of the situation allow them to actually grow calmer as the situation progresses, though an imminent lethal threat exists. The strangle is still not completely effective at first, making a continuing threat real, but their calm keeps them completely in control.Calm is Contagious!
  • Almost looks like the suspect is trying to tap at one point. Or he’s just flailing.
  • Suspect can be heard gurgling and says “I can’t breathe.” This is now – due to media coverage of uses of force – an incredibly loaded statement. In non-lethal situations this is an indicator and should be adjusted for, as it does appear that the strangle is getting closer to a bar choke due primarily to the suspect’s protracted struggles. However the suspect is still demonstrating resistive tension, and with the presence of the gun, and his continual reaching for it despite repeated verbal commands, this remains a lethal force situation and if it did become a bar choke, it is an entirely legally justified use of force.
  • Guy goes in and out of consciousness a bit – note that he still presents a threat because he is still able to give resistive tension. If I can resist tensing my whole body, I can do something that takes little energy, like squeeze a trigger…
  • They get the gun off him, and cuff him in front – not ideal but in that kinda situation you take what you can get! Then re-cuff in back.
  • Eventually he is taken into custody, he seems a little dazed like “what just happened?” He’s also probably surprised he didn’t get shot. Suspect appears to be giving some kind of Miranda like statements to the officers, even!
  • Note the calm explanation of the officer at the end, talking to the other parties laying out the Probable Cause, why they did what they did, gaining their approval and agreement, etc. This is GOLD. I have long made a practice of this after force encounters and I’m sure it is has saved me from some complaints. Not only that, it often gets people on your side, people actually commiserating with you “you had to do your job,” and apologies, even from the suspects you just used force on. Many officers do not do this, and it is a valuable tool on the job.

Once again, well done, gentlemen!  Thank you for demonstrating a very high level of skill and professionalism under harrowing circumstances.

*Why would this move not be advisable otherwise? Please note that even with two officers on this suspect, he was able to get his hand on his gun. Note that he was being strangled, and was still a viable – shootable – threat through much of this fight. If a single officer was fighting this man, and had both his hands occupied with a strangle, the man would have been able to pull that gun and shoot.

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