Should the Police Ban use of Choke Holds?
In light of the incident which recently occurred in Minneapolis many police forces across the world have been asked to consider implementing change in order to reduce the likelihood of similar outcomes. Whilst the case in question did not involve a technical choke it has resulted in a call for change.
The world has seen protests and riots following George Floyd's death, and the public have called for police reform in many countries both in and out of Europe.
The post-mortem following the untimely death of George Floyd listed a number of contributing factors, however there was one clear cause; Positional Asphyxia.
In this disgraceful arrest the Officer in charge knelt on the neck of Floyd for over 8 minutes whilst he remained handcuffed in the prone position.
The Prone Position:
Prone position = Face down restraint.
Placing or forcing someone into the prone position on the ground or any surface comes with a degree of risk. It compresses the persons diaphragm which impacts their ability to breathe effectively, this disruption of breathing is compounded by other factors:
· The subject is likely resisting and therefore is exerting energy – likely requiring more oxygen.
· The subject is likely in a state of excited delirium.
· The subject is likely being fuelled by adrenaline.
If you then add the weight of the arresting officers on the individuals back, neck or stomach risk of asphyxiation is increased. If the subject is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, the risk is again elevated. If the subject is over-weight this is an additional risk It is therefore quite understandable why this technique is largely avoided in the UK’s private security industry, and health sector.
Choke Hold – Medical Implications
The choke hold, is not simply the old school ‘headlock’ it is a technique that specifically targets the carotid arteries that take oxygenated blood to the brain. By disrupting the flow of blood on either side of the neck the impact is usually a temporary loss of consciousness. Usually applied from behind or to the side of the subject, variations of this choke may be applied from the front but this required a higher degree of skill.
Choke Holds derive from the martial arts scene, and are commonly used in Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga and MMA.
Practitioners are taught this technique and practice is for years, every single week, developing a sound understanding of how to apply it, and when to release it. This is key.
So the first question is, are police in the UK or for that matter across the rest of Europe, trained in the application of a choke hold?
If so, how often do they receive this level of training?
If this technique is not incorporated into training scenarios with the medical implications explained, should the police still be allowed to use it given the degree of risk that it carries?
Christopher Castiner (French Interior Minister) stated on 2nd June 2020 that following a number of petitions from the public and in light of the recent death in Minneapolis – that the chokehold “Should no longer be used or taught”.
This decision was reversed 2 weeks later following widespread protests amongst the police force. The protest was that the technique was useful and that their safety would be affected should they be no longer allowed to apply it.
We thusly can confirm that this technique is formally taught to French police officers and that it’s use will not be banned.
There have been a number of cases of positional asphyxia related deaths in custody or during detention here in the UK. Some of these cases include:
Sean Rigg Vs Met Police
Jimmy Mubenga Vs G4S
Meirion James Vs Dyfed-Powys Police
The Independent Office of Police Contact (IOPC) 2018-2019 report includes the following data:
-16 people died following police contact in the period.
-Of the 16 deaths in or following police custody, 10 people were identified as having ‘mental health concerns’ and 13 were known to have a link to alcohol/or drugs. 15 people were white and one person was black.
-Six of the 16 people who died in or following police custody had force used against them either by officers or members of the public before their deaths.
Following a Freedom of Information request the below statements have been extracted from Met Police Policy:
“An officer involved in a violent struggle may find it impossible to avoid applying pressure on the subject’s neck, thus running the risks described above. Officers should be aware of the inherent dangers in neck holds, and although one is entitled to take any reasonable steps as with any use of force, it must be justified and accounted for.”
“The use of such methods to restrain offenders is discouraged due to risk of serious injury or fatality”
George Floyd Death
Why did the police feel the need to kneel on the neck of a relatively compliant subject, who was already securely cuffed and face down.
Did he even need to be face down?
So was the force used actually necessary - Absolutely not.
Was it proportionate to the risk presented - Absolutely not.
Was it the least amount of force used to control the subject - Absolutely not.
If you are member of Security staff, a prison officer, secure transport staff or custody staff; these are questions you need to ask yourself when you or your colleagues find yourselves in similar restraint situations. What is actually necessary? Does the subject need to be on the ground, if so can they be moved to their back? Seek the least restrictive option and disengage from the situation at the earliest opportunity.
Choke holds are not seemingly taught or practiced on a regular basis or at all due to the dangerous nature of the hold. However they are not forbidden, and are permitted in extreme circumstances as a form of self-defence to control the outcome effectively. Understanding the difference between a controlled restraint and Self Defence is key. Remember our actions must always be proportionate and necessary in order for them to be justifiable both lawfully and ethically.
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If you wish to study the Art of Brazillian Jui Jitsu and are based in KENT, we can strongly recommend Adam Watts BJJ, Click HERE to get in touch with him.
Stay Safe, Stay Informed!