Brains and brawn over guns

Police want course to give officers alternative to gun

January 25, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police, concerned that officers are not adept at using physical force and might draw their guns too quickly, want to hire a former Navy SEAL to teach new ways to control combative suspects.

About a dozen officers from several states, training in Anne Arundel County, gave a demonstration yesterday for the media and top city police commanders. The commanders said they were impressed.

"We need to make sure officers have every tool possible before resorting to the firearm," said Maj. Stanford O. Franklin, a retired 24-year veteran of the Maryland State Police who runs the Baltimore department's training academy.

The program, which would cost the city $2 million for four years, is run by Lew Hicks, a 15-year veteran of the Navy's elite SEALS.

Hicks' program relies on easy-to-remember physical maneuvers and provides ethical perspective that prompts officers to consider the implications of using force.

"All training has to be based on a moral thread," Hicks said. "Instead of teaching someone a bunch of tricks, you have to teach them how to think."

Franklin said that when he arrived in March, officers expressed concerns that they felt inadequate "dealing with criminals on the street."

Officers had been trained in Koga, a West Coast program brought here by former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, a native of California.

It taught what many officers complained was a complicated series of defensive maneuvers based on the martial arts practice of aikido, a combination of Greco-Roman wrestling and jujitsu.

The theory was that suspects could be subdued using a series of blows to the body's pressure points. The program relied heavily on a Koga stick, a long baton that few officers carried.

`Skeletal manipulation'

Hicks uses what he calls "skeletal manipulation" to contort a suspect's body into submission. It is designed primarily for close-quarter altercations when an officer cannot or should not draw a weapon.

In a series of demonstrations, Hicks had officers with a makeshift knife playing the role of suspects and attacking colleagues. Officers were quickly able to disarm and subdue the attacker.

In another demonstration modeled on the 1999 police shooting of Larry Hubbard, who was shot in the back of the head by an officer trying to arrest him, Hicks had an officer lie on his back, his gun in his right hand, trying to fight off an attacker.

The officer was able to reverse positions by using his left hand to grab the suspect's face and twist it away. The idea is that the suspect's body turns in the direction of his or her head.

Avoiding gunfire

Officers also were taught ways to prevent people from grabbing the officer's gun - which happens often in a scuffle - without shooting.

One way is to throw the suspect off by lunging forward and then pulling back. Pulling back first, which is instinctive, puts the officer off balance and makes the weapon vulnerable, trainers said.

"If you are in a deadly-force situation, it does not mean it has to end up with the death of a suspect," Hicks told the group of officers from six states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona and Alaska.

Hicks is operating the program at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, where a handful of Baltimore officers are also involved. The city is trying to find the money, most likely through a grant, to begin training its 3,200 officers.

"I would like everyone to get this training," said Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris.

Officer Jason Reynolds, 30, a two-year veteran, said he recently confronted a man armed with a 14-inch butcher's knife in a cramped apartment in South Baltimore.

He was too close to draw his weapon - "he would have stabbed me before I cleared the gun from the holster" - but said Hicks' training gave him enough confidence to stand his ground.

Reynolds, who attended Hicks' training class as part of a review of the course, eventually talked the man into surrendering. But he said he believed he could have disarmed the man with minimal injuries to himself and to the suspect.

Police Corps training

Most of the officers being trained by Hicks in Linthicum are from departments outside Maryland or members of the Police Corps, a federal Justice Department program. The Police Corps, designed to put better-educated officers on city streets, is modeled after the Peace Corps and pays for college graduates to join police agencies for four years.

The Maryland Police Corps program, which also trains at the Maritime Institute, has not decided whether to adopt Hicks' training. Each department that participates in Police Corps is allowed to implement its own training program, as long as that program is approved by the national board.

Hicks ran into a stumbling block when Tallahassee, Fla., rejected the Police Corps and the training program because, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported, commanders did not like Hicks' military ways and his lack of civilian police experience.

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