Analysis

Watching the Hands
Detective Reston didn’t see Abner’s gun until after he was shot. This isn’t particularly surprising when we consider the fact he was in close contact with Abner and engaged in an intense physical struggle. One of the gravest hazards in any physical struggle is difficulty in continuously tracking of the offender’s hands while focusing on subduing him/her, especially when you are in such close contact with him/her that his/her upper body blocks his/her hands from your view. Even worse is the fact the more rapidly a stressful encounter unfolds, the more likely it is an officer will fail to see key elements of the event. This dangerous phenomenon was dramatically demonstrated by a recent study that found 65 percent of the officers who participated in a computer-simulated gunfight failed to see their assailant reaching for a firearm.3 A close-quarters fight clearly falls into the category of a rapidly evolving situation, and it is far more stressful than any computer simulation could ever be. When coupled with the other factors mentioned above, it is easy to see how an officer might not see his/her assailant pulling a weapon.

This and the threat of being disarmed are probably the two most important reasons for gaining control of a resisting opponent as quickly as possible. The longer the struggle goes on, the harder it is to watch his/her hands and the greater the chance that he/she will be able to access a weapon—his/hers or yours. Herein lies one of the most important, yet often ignored advantages of ECDs. By enabling officers to quickly subdue resistive subjects and then significantly limit their mobility for at least five seconds, they give officers valuable time to check for signs of weapons, assess the situation, move to a more advantageous position if necessary, plan their next move, and then take action in a more controlled manner. Whenever possible, the use of an ECD is preferable to going hands-on.

This option isn’t always available, of course. Like any other weapon, ECDs can malfunction like Reston’s did, miss, or otherwise be ineffective. Furthermore, some departments restrict their use to the point of near uselessness, and others don’t issue them at all. These and many other unforeseen factors can make it necessary to resort to control tactics, which only reinforces the importance of developing and maintaining a high level of proficiency in these skills. Train as often as you can, train hard, and stay in shape. But as important as it is, proficiency alone isn’t enough. It is also very important to be prepared to execute control tactics decisively and with full force. Anything less is likely to prolong the confrontation, and may only anger your opponent and/or convince him/her you are weak and indecisive.

It is also best to avoid pain compliance techniques unless you watch the offender’s hands very closely, and have a solid plan for instantly countering his move if it appears he/she is reaching for a weapon. Similarly, remember any technique that fails to control both of the offender’s hands will do little to prevent him/her from drawing a weapon with his/her free one. Finally, using the habit-development techniques discussed earlier in this analysis, make it a habit to always watch the hands.