Albert dotay — high-ranked black belt in karate and judo, former boxer and NYP' officer for 28 years — sounds off on what cops can do to cut down on incidents involving allegations of excessive use of force while still staying safeK
It’s become an all too common sight on the nightly news: allegations of police officers using excessive force, which lead to furious protests from outraged citizens, followed by a vocal defense on the part of the law- enforcement community.
egardless of which side of the debate you fall on, you’ll agree that attempts should be made to limit these kinds of incidents. But is this possible? What measures can be taken to reduce the use of excessive force while at the same time keeping police officers safe? ºC74A4 0A4 B><4 common-sense things that can be done, but no one wants to pay for them,” Albert Gotay said. “In the long run, it might be better for cities to just invest more money in police training — including self-defense training — rather than pay the cost of lawsuits.”
When it comes to training police, Gotay knows better than most. A high-ranked black belt in karate and judo, as well as a former amateur boxer, he served for 28 years in the New York Police Department. He worked on the elite tactical patrol force and eventually ran the department’s physical-education unit, which included all self-defense training for police recruits. Although he retired from the force in 1990, the manual he wrote on the subject is still in use. He’s also quite candid on the pros and cons of the current situation with law enforcement.
“I imagine there are still incidents of officers using too much force, and the media attention on this is good in a way because they’re being held
The rear choke used to be a key component of an officer’s arsenal, but it’s no longer employed by many departments because of safety concerns that have recently come to light.
more accountable,” Gotay said. “But it can also be bad for the public as a whole because officers are becoming more timid. They don’t want to get into trouble, so they’re slower to respond to situations, and consequently citizens are getting less coverage. We call it officers becoming ‘flower pots.’ They just stand there and do nothing.”
THE SOLUTION to the problem of lawenforcement officers using too much force, Gotay said, is to have them engage in more training while they’re at the police academy and more follow-up training afterward. For example, the NYPD has one of the longest and most rigorous training courses in the United States for its recruits. The empty-hand self-defense curriculum Gotay taught there included punches and defenses against them, kicks and defenses against them, escapes, and counters to grabs, takedowns and ground attacks — in addition to body language.
All that had to be accomplished during a six-month period with only 40 hours of devoted training time. Unfortunately, many police departments around the country are forced to educate their recruits with even less training time. Clearly, police officers are being asked to accomplish a nearly impossible task when it comes to skill acquisition.
And that doesn’t even take into account our evolving knowledge of defensive tactics. Case in point: The rear choke used to be a key component of an officer’s arsenal, but it’s no longer employed by many departments because of safety concerns that have recently come to light.
“It was still allowed when I was on the force, and I’d use it all the time to finish situations quickly so I didn’t have to resort to my nightstick or hitting the suspect,” Gotay said. “I remember one incident when I was a sergeant at the 20th Precinct in Manhattan and a family called in about their son. I got to their home with another officer, and this kid was about 200 pounds and acting crazy, so I told the other officer to engage him from the front. Then I stepped around behind him and applied a chokehold. It only took about two seconds to take him down.
“If I hadn’t been able to do that, we probably would have had to start punching and kicking him and using our batons. There would have been blood all over the place. In the hands of someone who knows how to do it, the chokehold is an excellent tool.”
Given the current amount of training most officers receive, Gotay said, chokeholds have been deemed unsuitable for many police departments because of the danger that someone who lacks experience might apply them for too long, which could lead to a fatal outcome.
EVEN MORE worrisome to many are incidents in which police shoot unarmed suspects. Although each of these cases must be examined individually before assigning blame, Gotay said that in some of these incidents, officers do not seem to be following basic self-defense guidelines that say they should take cover when talking with a suspect who may be armed.
“If you’re behind cover, when he turns toward you, you don’t have to let go a round — you can wait to make sure he does have a weapon,” Gotay said. “But this is also something that needs to be emphasized constantly in training.”
Clearly, there’s not enough time in the average academy course for recruits to master every aspect of police work, particularly when you consider all the subtleties of close-quarters combat. This is why ongoing training and recertification are so important, he said. But convincing overworked officers to devote more time to developing difficult physical skills can be an uphill battle.
One solution was implemented during Gotay’s tenure with the NYPD: To improve the physical fitness of its rank and file, the department began offering any officer who volunteered to take a fitness exam — and pass it — an extra quarter point toward a promotion. While that might not sound like much, Gotay said in a department where thousands of people might take the exam to become a sergeant, something that moves you up a hundred spots on the promotion list could be extremely valuable. He said he doesn’t see why similar incentive programs can’t be instituted to ensure law-enforcement officers continue to improve their self-defense skills.
IN THE END — for better or worse — much of the burden for training will fall on the officers themselves.
“I always told recruits in the academy that when they’re on the job, one of the biggest things is going to be self-defense,” Gotay said. “The main reason people give for not being fit is that they don’t have the time, and you hear that same excuse when it comes to learning self-defense. So I’d always tell them [that] what you have to do is make this your personal hobby. Find a school, get involved with it and get good at it so it becomes part of your normal lifestyle.”