Lawful but awful: Bringing new techniques into defensive tactics training
A program at the Pasco Police Department aims to explore techniques that may be more effective than what is taught at the academy
Police defensive tactics methods are often rooted in a named “system” subscribed by whatever entity performs the DT training. Methods falling outside of that system are usually unauthorized, and any officer who employs them can be charged with improper use of force.
A program at the Pasco Police Department aims to explore techniques that may be more effective than what is taught at the academy.
Pasco is the second-smallest of the municipalities making up the Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington. The other two are Kennewick and Richland. Pasco PD has about 86 officers to serve 74,000 people. More than half of the residents of Pasco are Hispanic or Latino.
Officer Adrian Alaniz came to Pasco PD with experience in mixed martial arts (MMA), which borrows from multiple combative disciplines.
“I was used to taking pieces of programs and integrating them into my own style,” Alaniz said.” “I wanted to add more training hours for defensive tactics and tried to combine some of my MMA techniques with what I learned in the academy. Specifically, I combined Jiu-Jitsu techniques, which are less violent than striking, from MMA.”
The Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) provides basic and advanced training to all Washington peace officers. Most attend a live-in academy in Burien, Washington, near Tacoma. Occasionally, a class will train in Spokane. This model standardizes law enforcement training for the over 11,000 officers working in 260 agencies in the state. There is efficiency in maintaining a single basic curriculum, but the need to have new methods accepted statewide can hinder evolution.
Alaniz was already training on his own time at Evol Octopus Jiu Jitsu Academy in Pasco. Alex Larmey is the head instructor there. Larmey has not been a law enforcement officer but is a disabled combat veteran military officer. He has trained law enforcement officers, military personnel and professional fighters.
“Larmey was a great fit for training law enforcement officers,” Alaniz said. “Jiu-Jitsu isn’t replacing anything – it supplements.”
Larmey told the Pasco PD officers who are his students, “I’m going to make you comfortable in uncomfortable situations.” He stresses that officers must be confident in their techniques and tactics, knowing they’re going to work, which aids them in managing their own stress.
One of the supervisors who oversee Pasco PD’s defensive tactics training is Sgt. Daniel Ward. Ward is a newly promoted supervisor but has been a Pasco PD officer since 2016 and a U.S. Army NCO before that. He said that some of the standard defensive tactics moves in use were “lawful but awful. They didn’t always work. Sometimes the best tactic is to keep the suspect busy until they are tired out and more officers can get on scene to make the arrest without injury to anyone. Most suspects don’t have much more than 30 to 60 seconds of fight in them.”
Listen to Police1's Policing Matters host Jim Dudley speak with Rener Gracie, world-renowned Jiu-Jitsu expert, practitioner and chief instructor at the Gracie University, about the current deficits in law enforcement defensive tactics training:
The project to integrate the Jiu-Jitsu moves into the Pasco PD inventory is starting with 10 officers. The Pasco Police Foundation is funding the training for the first group. If it proves to be successful, they hope to expand the training to all officers and make it a part of their regular in-service curriculum. The program costs $100-$140 per month per officer. Officers typically train on their own time for one hour, two days per week or eight days per month. They are about eight weeks into the pilot program and have sustained no training injuries yet, a testimonial to the quality of instruction.
Alaniz said they tried to select officers with a wide range of abilities to pilot the training program: “Not all of our officers come with the same abilities and levels of fitness. We’re seeing that less well-conditioned officers still gain proficiency.”
Ward echoed Alaniz’s assessment. “They’re having fun. We saw some who did a one-eighty in attitude. They’re getting better conditioned and more skilled.”
Officer Alex Michel came to Pasco PD after serving several years as a correctional officer in a Washington prison. “I got into more fights in the prison than I do here,” Michel said. “I’m in the middle of a six-month trial [of the training program]. The training I’m getting has given me more self-confidence.”
Sgt. Ward also commented on the confidence-building aspect. “It’s humbling. Some of our officers are not as good as they think they are.”
Because the Pasco PD officers train in classes at Evol Octopus with students that aren’t cops, the program has had the unexpected benefit of improving police-community relations. I think I’ve gotten more questions while training at Evol Octopus than in any other environment,” Alaniz said.
Seeing some of the officers who are not as physically fit as others improve and adapt to the training has caused Alaniz to reconsider some of the definitions he has made professionally. “What does officer wellness look like? What is this program doing to your life?” are among the issues he’s reviewing. “This training is improving officer morale. It also helps a lot that our administration is supporting this. That is key to the success of any new program.”
Additional Police1 resources on Jiu-Jitsu
- 4 steps to incorporate Jiu-Jitsu into your department’s use of force training
- The value of Jiu-Jitsu for SWAT operators
- 5 reasons striking can be a liability in law enforcement
- St. Paul police credit Jiu-Jitsu training for reducing injuries, excessive force settlements
- Jiu-Jitsu trains Ariz. police officers for safer outcomes