Choke Holds: A Police Perspective Part 2/3

Today we’re continuing with a three part series on police choke holds from a law enforcement officer’s perspective. 

This is Part II which covers the physiology and mechanism of these strikes. Great details for authors to use in their novels. You can find Part I here.

Welcome back, Karl!

Getting into the physiology of choke-hold techniques would be good background information for the writer/reader as well. First off, let’s clarify one thing. The police don’t “choke” people. Choking implies obstructing a person’s airway and limiting their ability to breath. Because a person can hold their breath for several minutes when calm, or even a mere twenty to thirty seconds while in the midst of a fight, this would be a bad technique for incapacitating someone.

The officer would not only have to apply enough strength to cut off the airway (which is a lot), but also overpower the target long enough for that person to lose consciousness. Using a technique that requires literally all of the officer’s own personal strength for twenty to thirty seconds is not feasible.

What the police actually do, and what you see in MMA, is generally one of several different carotid restraints. Blocking off the blood to a person’s brain at the point of the neck can cause a person to pass out in only a few seconds and requires far less strength to apply correctly. But again, the effects last only a few seconds.

In MMA and in police training, the technique usually involves applying external pressure to the carotid arteries, while not actually interfering with the person’s ability to breath. Some simple internet searching would provide names and a detailed explanation of the techniques for the author to use in their writing.

PLEASE NOTE: Many police departments actually frown upon use of carotid restraints in response to anything less than a serious attack, or even a lethal force situation, because it is very dangerous and can cause death. The police generally don’t have an MMA referee right there watching, telling the officer when to release the restraint and there’s no team of medics standing in the wings ready to immediately render aide, like there is in the world of MMA.

When talking about a strike to a nerve center with the goal of causing incapacitation, there are generally three proven techniques.

The first is called the brachial plexus stun. This is a strike aimed at a massive nerve complex in a person’s neck. The target is about half way between the shoulder and jaw bone and just forward of the major neck muscles on the side of a person’s neck. You can easily find the area by kneading the tips of your fingers deep into the skin of the described area. You’ll find that one spot that is dramatically more painful under the same amount of pressure than the areas around it.  That’s the brachial plexus nerve center.

The strike can be delivered with a normal closed fist punch, an open palm strike, or a forearm strike. If done correctly, the strike literally overloads the brain with pain and causes something akin to an electrical surge that will stun the attacker, make them get weak in the knees and possibly cause a very temporary loss of consciousness.

The police officer must take advantage of these few seconds to put handcuffs on the attacker or get them into some kind of restraint hold that will prevent the attacker from continuing to fight when they get their senses back.

The second technique is known as the, “Gerber Slap.”  This is an open palm strike targeted at the base of the skull, right where those big muscles on the back of the neck attach. The person delivering the strike is trained to slightly cup the hand, so the pressure of the strike actually comes through the fingertips and from the meaty part at the base of one’s palm. Similar to the brachial plexus stun, this causes a massive sensory overload in the brain and a stunning effect, or even a temporary loss of consciousness.

The last one is called the, “Super Scapula Stun.”  This is a strike that you might commonly associate with Hollywood, when the secret agent walks up behind the target and delivers a sharp, Karate type chop, with the blade of their hand, to the target’s shoulder and the target falls to the floor, unconscious.

In reality, it is much harder to pull off and requires significantly more force and pressure than Hollywood ever depicts. The target for the super scapula is the meaty portion of the trapezius muscles, within a couple inches of the neck. The strike is delivered in a downward and inward motion, usually with a closed fist, hammer like motion (as if to stab downward at the target with a knife).

For the best results, both fists should be used, striking at both sides (left and right) simultaneously. Police are often trained that if the target is standing, jumping up to deliver the strike from a higher position is preferred. The police are also trained to kick the target in the back of the legs hoping to drop them to their knees before delivering the strike, again allowing for a strike to come from above. The reason is simple combat physiology. You can hit something harder using that hammer fist strike that is well below shoulder level, than something which is at or above shoulder level.

We’ll conclude with Part III next Tuesday.

Deputy Karl Mai is a 16 year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs, CO.  He has mostly worked street patrol and as a Field Training Officer (FTO), but has also worked in the county jail and as a Detective.

Choke Holds: A Police Perspective Part 1/3

This question was sent to me via e-mail by a reader. In light of the recent choke hold death of Eric Garner that involved police, I thought it would be interesting to cover it here from a police training perspective so I’ve invited just such a person to handle this question. This information will be split over three posts.
Today is Part I.
James asks:
I came across your website when searching out forensics for my novel and wondered if you might be able to assist me.

I am writing a contemporary spy thriller set in the UK. In my spy thriller my protagonist is escaping the police and wants to knock one of them out. But he is a good guy and the police aren’t the baddies in the piece, they’ve just got in the way. So he has no desire to do permanent damage to the cop.

In Hollywood, a blow to the head is enough but I know that in reality there is no guarantee that this will render someone unconscious and is just as likely to cause brain injury. Other techniques in films are choke holds and striking certain nerves in the neck.
My question: Are either of these options really feasible? If my character was ex-special forces would he be able to choke someone just long enough to make them lose consciousness while avoiding starving the brain of oxygen and thus causing brain damage?
Similarly, are there any nerves or blood vessels that he could strike or cut off that would render the victim unconscious while avoiding serious harm? If the victim were struggling would this make a difference?
Karl Says:
The answer to much of this is ‘yes’ there are several ways to temporarily incapacitate a person via choke hold, or a strike to one of several nerve centers.
What Hollywood generally gets wrong is how long this effect lasts. Hollywood will show a person getting “knocked out,” and there is time for the hero to drag the limp body off to a dark corner, or simply leave them behind where they fall and continue their mission, escape, etc.
The truth is, many of these techniques will merely stun a person, and rarely knock them out. Either way, the effects only last for a few seconds, even if the person is knocked unconscious. In law enforcement, when we train with these techniques, the general rule of thumb is that the technique must be followed with handcuffing, or another approved restraint technique.
If a police officer has legal justification to apply a “choking” restraint against a person, or if we strike one of the nerve centers with a goal of stunning them, the same officer will generally have enough cause to arrest that person as well. But the main reason for the restraints is because the cop doesn’t want the attacker to simply get up a few seconds later and continue the attack.
One of the best examples I can give you is the very real world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Watching this sport on television demonstrates my point perfectly. The fighter who gets incapacitated, knocked out with a punch, or choke hold generally gets up within just a few seconds. Generally, he wants to continue the fight even though they have actually just lost the fight and may not even realize it. 
It’s as if the fighter’s brain has been paused as a result of being temporarily stunned from the knockout punch and as soon as the PLAY button is pressed, the fighter’s brain and body want to start where they left off, which was in the middle of a fight. This is why you will often see the referee having to restrain the fighter who was just knocked out and explain to them, “Dude, you just lost. You got knocked out.”  This sometimes takes a few moments to sink in with the recently knocked out fighter.
They are still overcoming the effects of the being knocked out. Their brain is still trying to catch up. They don’t remember falling to the canvas like a sack of bricks. Sometimes the fighter falls and his hands are still up in a fighting position, but his eyes are staring off into space. But they still get up after only a few seconds and they are very capable of continuing the fight, but the rules of MMA prevent this. There are no rules on the street and a police officer must take into account that the person will continue the fight unless something is done to prevent it.

We’ll continue with Part II on Thursday. 

Deputy Karl Mai is a 16 year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs, CO.  He has mostly worked street patrol and as a Field Training Officer (FTO), but has also worked in the county jail and as a Detective.

Nosebleeds: Hollywood– Please Stop.

There are a few things that parents freak out about that are of minor concern to us in the pediatric emergency department.

One of those is the nosebleed. Particularly living in a dry state like Colorado– nosebleeds happen. Your nasal tissue is very vascular so if it becomes dry and irritated, it won’t take much to get a nosebleed started. Generally, all that is needed is a little extra moisture. A humidifier in the room. Some saline nose drops and perhaps some Vaseline applied to the inside lower portion of the nostril to resolve.

In my twenty plus years of nursing, I’ve never seen a nosebleed be a sign of any horrifying diagnosis. I’m not saying that it can’t be (and this is what likely sends most parents to the ER) but it would be an uber-rare event.

But Hollywood seems to have a fascination with nosebleeds. Anytime a character is using any increased mental prowess or mental super power– this is signified by a nosebleed.

In fact, I found some support of this ridiculousness with this blog post on 7 Most Ridiculous Psychic Nosebleeds in Movies and TV. It’s genius. 

And it has become an annoyance of mine.

Evidently, the medical assumption is that there is soooo much pressure in the brain from all this mental sommuersaulting that it has caused the nose to start bleeding.

If that were true, then we would see medical correlation for this. I’ve worked in intensive care where patients have had measured increased intracranial pressure to the point that they herniated (or shifted) their brain to places it shouldn’t go.

And still– no nosebleed.

Your nasal tissue isn’t in direct communication with your brain (it’s not part of that cavity) so it doesn’t make sense for a nosebleed to be evidence of increased brain pressure.

The only instance this might be medically reasonable is when there is a basilar skull fracture where the bones that line the bottom of your skull break. Then there does become a correlation between your brain and your sinus cavity and drainage from the nose can happen in that instance.

But otherwise– Hollywood– let’s let the nosebleed go.