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How one police agency used martial arts to reduce use-of-force injuries

Posted at 10:42 PM, Jun 10, 2021

A Georgia police department is rethinking policing by requiring officers to undergo martial arts training in an effort to reduce injuries during arrests.

Marietta officers are learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which uses grappling tactics, like body leverage moves and submission holds, not punches or strikes.

The police department shared body-cam videos with ABC15 showing on-duty takedowns. The officers get people under control quickly and physically but without injury. The department credits Brazilian jiu-jitsu training.

"You're now walking into it with a sense of confidence that I know I can take this person to the ground and restrain them until help arrives," said Officer Chuck McPhilamy, a spokesman for the Marietta Police Department.

For Marietta, their turning point was in 2019 after a viral video showed their officers in a violent encounter in an IHOP restaurant. They pile on, punch, and taser Renardo Lewis.

As police leadership looked to reduce levels of force in future situations, a major in the department suggested Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The major and several other officers were already doing the training on their own, and he had previously pitched the idea of offering it to all officers.

Since then, all new Marietta officers must train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for several months. Existing officers are also encouraged to go.

According to Marietta police, in 2020, they compared officers who knew Brazilian jiu-jitsu to officers without training. They calculated:

  • 48% reduction of injuries to officers using force
  • 53% reduction of injuries to the person being arrested when force was required
  • 23% reduction of the use of Tasers

They also noticed something about police behavior.

"A lot of officers tend to go up and scale on their use-of-force because of the fact that they don't have that conditioning or because they don't have that training," said Marietta Sgt. Ray Figueroa.

The city pays for the classes and the officers' time.

"The city has discovered that even at all of those costs," Officer McPhilamy said, "it pales in comparison to the savings that they're having."

McPhilamy noted workers' compensation savings for officers who are injured on duty.

ABC15 also spoke to Mike Lin, a retired Phoenix police officer who is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

"It helped me get out of situations," Lin said. "I believe it saved my life and even the subjects that I'm dealing with - their lives, as well."

Lin plans to offer free training to Valley officers at GD Jiu-Jitsu in Tempe later this year.

"Anytime you can add a new skill set to your job and your profession, it's going to make you a better police officer," Lin said.

Marietta police recommend other departments also try jiu-jitsu, but they say without an influential champion for the cause, it may be hard to convince others to commit to the initial investment.