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Government & Politics

Ky Police Officers Refer to "Use-of-Force Continuum" when Subduing Subjects

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Department of Criminal Justice Training

After the death of Eric Garner in New York City, police tactics have come under scrutiny on the national level. 

In Kentucky, officers are taught when and if to use defensive tactics as prescribed by The Use-of-Force Continuum. 

Travis Tennill is a Defensive Tactics Supervisor with the Department of Crinimal Justice Training in Richmond, Ky. He says the Continuum is a flowchart detailing the level of force necessary to control a subject based on their size, resistance and other environmental factors.

“The very first thing on the levels of control is officer presence," said Tennill. "So just by you showing up, that is a level of control. Opposite that on the subject’s side is psychological intimidation, that can range from them staring you down or balling their fists up to showing a readiness to fight and then it works its way up to deadly force on both sides.” 

Other levels of control include verbal commands, use of intermediate weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray and hand-to-hand techniques including punches, kicks and pressure point holds.

Tennill says officers are taught the vascular neck restraint and not the respiratory neck restraint, also known as a choke hold, which has been called a factor in Garner’s death.

“We don’t call them choke holds, in PPCT (pressure point control tactics) it’s called the shoulder pin restraint system and there are two different types of restraint," said Tennill. "We don’t teach the respiratory neck restraint but we talk about it just to discern the two. It’s clearly the most dangerous restraint because you’re applying direct pressure on the trachea. When you compress the trachea, you’re generating strangulation and a very high degree of pain. Obviously when that happens, a person's self-preservation will kick in. When it gets to that point, they’re going to do everything they can to try to survive. So that can result in death. It’s considered deadly force on our force continuum. 

“The second type is a vascular neck restraint and that’s what the shoulder pin restraint system is. It’s not a deadly force technique, it’s what we call hard empty hand technique. We’re going to render someone unconscious but we do so by apply a pressure to the side of the neck rather than on the trachea. There are a lot of arteries, veins, capillaries going up the side of the neck and when we apply pressure to that area, we’re cutting off oxygenated blood to the brain which renders them unconsciousness."

But often times officers have difficulty executing these moves effectively as the dynamics of a real-world situation differ greatly from a training scenario. 

"What we tell recruits is what you're doing here at the training academy is in a very controlled environment," said Tennill. "We look for correct placement of their elbows, their arms, things like that. And you're dealing with another recruit so is compliant, who is allowing you to do those things, and they see very quickly how difficult it is to obtain those holds and how to maintain them." 

He says Kentucky officers are taught the “1+1 theory” in which they go one control level higher than the subject. 

"Which means if the subject is exerting a certain amount of resistance, we go one level higher on the control side and that optimizes officer safety and allows us to control the subject that much better," said Tennill.  "With every technique we teach, there's somebody out there that it just won't work on because maybe their size, strength, compliance.

"Our first priority is to protect the public and to do that sometimes you put yourself in harm's way," said Tennill. "You're constantly processing 'how good is this going? Is this not going so well? Am I not able to control the subject? This isn't working, what am I going to do next? In a dynamic situation when someone is actively, aggressively trying to hurt you or kill you, it's a very difficult situation to be in." 

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