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When suspects resist arrest: 12 motivations for resistance to ensure LEOs are tactically aware

When your words fail, you must be prepared to physically prevail


Trying to end every potentially violent encounter with verbalization skills is an honorable, but unrealistic goal.

Photo courtesy of Dan Marcou

Nowadays, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on de-escalation and crisis intervention tactics designed to prevent the need to use force to stabilize a situation. The possession of such skills is invaluable. However, despite our best efforts, there will always be suspects who resist – even after skilled attempts are made to de-escalate.

For officers, dangers can exist while they attempt to de-escalate a situation. Some officers, who may become too mentally invested in the effort, can become mentally unprepared to counter sudden resistance, flight or an assault.

Recognizing the powerful motivations for each individual suspect to resist can help an officer remain tactically aware of developing dangers during the de-escalation attempt. Below are 12 examples of motivations for resistance that may be present in contact with a suspect.

12 Examples of Motivations for Resistance

  1. Drugs or alcohol: When a suspect is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, judgments can be altered significantly.
  2. Fruits of a crime: A suspect in possession of evidence or fruits of a serious crime may believe that fighting or fleeing can provide a last chance to avoid identification and apprehension. They may also think it presents an opportunity to dispose of the evidence.
  3. Outstanding warrants: A wanted suspect may choose to resist, fight or flee.
  4. Delirium tremens: Drug addicts and alcoholics sometimes know incarceration will lead to the “DTs.” The desire to avoid this suffering may provide the impetus to resist, fight or flee.
  5. Embarrassing crime: Sexual criminality is often a suspect’s deep dark secret. The fear of being exposed will, in many situations, encourage dramatic resistance.
  6. Judge’s or probation agent’s “final” warning: Sometimes, a looming “final” warning from a judge or probation agent, which is meant to deter crime, will instead inspire vigorous resistance from a suspect when they are caught doing exactly what they were warned not to do.
  7. The officer looks beatable: Resistance can be inspired by an arresting officer that looks lackadaisical, in poor condition, off-balance, ill-prepared, unaware or without backup.
  8. No consequences for resistance: Too many prosecutors routinely plea out battery to a police officer and resisting arrest charges. This sends a message that these are throw-away crimes, encouraging more batteries and resistance.
  9. Large quantities of illegal substances: A suspect carrying large quantities of illegal substances for an employer may be looking at more serious consequences from that employer for losing a shipment than from the criminal justice system. This fear is a great motivator for resisting arrest.
  10. Dangerously distorted reality: A mentally ill person may have a distorted reality. When their psychosis makes them believe you are an imminent threat to their life, this can lead to a high degree of resistance.
  11. The “cop-hater": This is a person with an unreasonable hatred for the police. They may deliberately confront the police, earn arrest and willfully resist that arrest out of hatred.
  12. Possession of a strong desire to kill or be killed: A suspect who is homicidal or even suicidal may deliberately lure an officer into a face-to-face encounter to facilitate their deadly plan of “suicide by cop.”

Danger assessment guide

Here are some early warning signs indicating you may face resistance, which should set off a warning in your head: “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! Proceed with caution.”

  • Conspicuously ignoring you: Simply ignoring your words or even your presence is a huge red flag. There is an old Native American proverb that says: “Beware of the man that does not talk and the dog that does not bark.”
  • Excessive emotional attention: When someone is emotionally agitated, their behaviors might become as volatile as the emotions fueling them.
  • Exaggerated motion: When a person’s movements and gestures are noticeably larger than life and faster than normal, this indicates that the person is adrenalized.
  • Muscular tension: Tightened muscles in the jaw, along with clenched fists, are a not-so-subtle indication that the situation you are facing is tense.
  • Known violent history with police: When the suspect you are dealing with has been violent in the past, you must be mentally prepared for the possibility that you might also be the target of chronic violent behavior.

Pre-Attack Postures

  • Thousand-yard stare: Whether this gaze is caused by a deliberate depersonalization process or a psychotic episode, it does not bode well for you as the officer making contact.
  • A threat or promise of violence: If a suspect promises to hurt you or someone else, don’t assume it is an idle threat.
  • Target glance: A suspect is in the planning stage for their next move if they’re looking for an exit, witnesses or – even worse – at your weapon.
  • Stance: A “fighting stance” is meant to facilitate a sudden attack.
  • Watch the hands: When a suspect shifts into a guard position, you shift to a defensive stance.
  • Shoulder shift: When a suspect’s shoulders shift to a bladed position, prepare for the incoming assault.
  • Exhibits resistive tension: When you make contact and feel resistive tension, it does not always lead to an attack. However, in every case where an officer is attacked, resistive tension is a precursor.


During my time as a master instructor trainer at Wisconsin’s State Defense and Arrest Tactics System, I often found myself repeating this phrase: Trying to end every potentially violent encounter with verbalization skills is an honorable, but unrealistic goal.

It will serve you well to have a Plan A and B for every encounter. For example, your Plan A could mean using your best de-escalation and communication skills to solve each conflict peacefully with words. But, just in case, your Plan B could look like staying alert in a defensible position while de-escalating, keeping your physical skills at the ready.

Simply put: When your words fail, you must be prepared to physically prevail.

NEXT: For safer scenes and greater support, practice de-escalation

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.