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Bringing back ‘the carotid’

Using the Bilateral Vascular Restraint (BVR), it takes very little pressure to cause the desired result — compliance — in an otherwise noncompliant subject

One of the most valuable tools in an officer’s bag of defensive tactics tricks was the carotid restraint. It was/is an incredibly effective tool. For you MMA fans, you know how many matches end with this technique.

What is interesting to note is the technique works consistently with minimal damage to the person on the receiving end. Officers throughout the country had used the technique with great success. After the Rodney King incident, both Chief Darryl Gates and Sergeant Stacey Koon stated that if the officers had been permitted to use the carotid, the entire incident would have been over in seconds. But since this valuable tool had been removed, officers were left with impact weapons to control Rodney King.

Why did this happen? Why was this useful tool removed? There were some deaths associated with the technique (some correctly and some incorrectly) and there was much political pressure to remove the carotid from an officer’s repertoire. This is similar to some outcry today against the TASER, even though it has been proven to make BOTH officers and subjects safer.

As I taught Defensive Tactics Instructors courses for other law enforcement departments, I was surprised to learn the FBI is one of very few agencies that still permit the use of a carotid-type restraint. Many organizations have taken this highly-effective, potentially life-saving technique away from officers. I think this is wrong.

In an attempt to bring back this valuable tool, Dr. John Pi (he is also a FBI Special Agent) organized and led a panel of medical personnel to research the carotid, determine the optimal safety and tactical applications, and create a better understanding of the medical explanation for its effectiveness. I was the only non-medical person on the panel and served as the tactical expert. One of the first discoveries of the panel was that law enforcement typically didn’t fully understand the physiological occurrences. This led to misunderstandings in teaching the technique and safety guidelines.

The results of the study are documented in an article written by Dr. Pi (“Bilateral Vascular Restraint – Facts and Myths of the Carotid Restraint,” The Tactical Edge, Summer 2010) and in my book (Advanced Concepts in Defensive Tactics: A Survival Guide for Law Enforcement, CRC Press, Taylor & Francis, 2011). Based on a better understanding of the physiological reactions of the technique, the panel decided to name the new technique the Bilateral Vascular Restraint (BVR).

The BVR is effective not just because of the compression of the carotid arteries. It is primarily a combination of three occurrences, of which the least impact is derived from the compression of the carotid arteries. The proper application of a BVR results in fainting due to the compression of the carotid arteries, the compression of the jugular veins, and the stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls involuntary body functions such as breathing and your heart beating. The panel determined that it takes about 11 ponds of pressure to block the carotid arteries and only five pounds of pressure to block the jugular veins. If the jugular veins are even partially blocked, blood flow from the head is slowed and blood becomes congested in the head. When pressure is applied to a resistor’s mid-neck area (the area of the jugular veins), the carotid sinuses determines there is an increase in blood pressure and signals the vagus nerve to respond to the threat by drastically slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure, which results in fainting.

How does this affect the teaching and application of the BVR? First, we know it takes very little pressure to cause the desired result. This is why small officers have successfully submitted much larger, stronger resistors. Second, we know it is the compression of the jugular veins that has a greater impact on the desired result rather than the compression of the carotid arteries. This means pressure is applied more to the sides of the neck and farther away from the sensitive area of the throat.

When deaths have occurred with the use of the carotid, it wasn’t because of the carotid. It was the result of an entirely different technique (an “air” choke) being used. An air choke relies on stopping the breathing of a subject. A “blood” choke, such as the BVR, relies on reducing the blood flow to the brain. Other deaths have occurred because of Excited Delirium, in which the resistor would have died regardless of whether the officer used a baton, TASER, personal weapons, or just gave the resistor a friendly hug.

What are the safety precautions? First, the officer can never apply pressure against the throat area (unless deadly force is justified). Pressure must always be applied to the sides of the resistor’s neck.

Once the officer’s arms are positioned correctly, maximum pressure must be exerted. Only moderate pressure is required for the BVR to be effective, but it is important that enough pressure is applied so the officer’s arms do not slip out of correct alignment.

To ensure the encircling arm is positioned correctly, the officer needs to make certain there is not a gap between the officer’s body and the resistor’s body (hold on tight and stay close), and the officer’s body should be slightly angled so that the encircling arm easily reaches around the resistor’s neck and the officer’s elbow is over, and protecting, the resistor’s vulnerable throat area.

Finally, the subject should be taken immediately to the ground to limit counter moves and resistance.

The carotid was a great tool that made officer’s lives safer. Its primary disadvantage is you must be right on top of the subject to use it. But if you are in a fight and close proximity to the resistor, and you can’t access any other tools, it’s a great technique. Very few departments allow a carotid-type of technique. Based on the ground-breaking research by Dr. Pi and his team, which department is willing to step forward and implement the BVR?

Who is willing to put this life-saving tool back in the hands of officers?

Chuck Joyner was employed by the CIA from 1983 to 1987, a Special Agent with the FBI from 1987 until his retirement in October 2011, and is currently a reserve police officer in Texas. During his career, Chuck worked Violent Crimes & Major Offenders Program, gang task force and training. He was a SWAT team operator, sniper and later served as the SWAT Commander. He has provided firearms, defensive tactics, chemical agent and tactical training to thousands of law enforcement officers and military personnel. Chuck has lectured internationally and throughout the U.S. on myriad law enforcement topics.

Contact Chuck Joyner