Detaining suspects – a good way to go to the hospital or jail

Came across this post recently, discussing why we’d want to hold a suspect at gunpoint and how to do so.  Standard intelligent discussion of the issue…and, and I mean this – with all due respect, all wrong.  In two ways.

First, as civilians, we never want to hold a suspect at gunpoint, or  use force, or the threat of force, to detain them in any way.  The legal term for that is arrest.  No kidding.  No exaggeration.  Arrest!  And the laws pertaining to false arrest are all tilted in favor of the arrestee, not you, the civilian.  Fuggedaboutit.

Yes, I concede that  I can construct a scenario in which you or I would have to hold someone at gunpoint (presumably for the police to come and collect), but that’s pretty much as likely as those Armageddon scenarios that the kiddies like to fantasize about. Statistically zero.

Your communication with BGs should all be about getting them to stop their attack on you.  Stop!  Don’t Move!  Don’t come any closer!  Drop the weapon!  Don’t make me shoot you!  And so on.  Short, clear phrases with hard consonants.  Nothing else.  (Particularly no Dirty Harry patter!)

Once they stop trying to hurt you the only thing you might say, other than repeating one of the above commands, is possibly, and only if safe to do , “run away!”  You should be calling 911 from a position of cover or advantage.  If the BG runs away, let him.  If they re-engage, then go back to the above commands (or shoot, only if necessary of course).  There’s simply no need for anything else, comms-wise or action-wise.  In fact, anything else on either front can only get you in trouble.  Plus detaining a suspect is fraught with way more danger than calling 911 from a position of advantage.  Hope that’s obvious.

The second reason that the advice in that article is all wrong is that it’s about detaining a compliant suspect, which is kinda silly.  I won’t prolong this post any further, but my thoughts about this are in this not-too-long-ago article in American Cop.  Although the audience for that piece was fellow cops it applies to civilians too, in the light of what we’re discussing here.


6 thoughts on “Detaining suspects – a good way to go to the hospital or jail

  1. As the author of that blog post I appreciate your comment and your reasoned disagreement. I would suggest there are times where holding someone for the police is not only logical but tactically sound. Like you I was a police detective for 26 years in a major urban area, I ran a narcotics unit for 5 years and spent 9 years on SWAT, 6 of those as a SWAT squad leader and instructor.

    if you encounter a person, in your home, and you are armed you have two choices: allow them to leave (which I encourage, in most cases) or freeze them in place. The decision to freeze is based upon factors which are articulable and tactically sound. We agree we need to use clear and concise language when dealing with a threat. Part of this initial contact will be determining if this person is compliant. If they are not, you need to do whatever it takes to protect yourself and your family. If they are compliant, I want to put them in the greatest position of disadvantage as possible. In most cases, this is facing away from me and running back out my door. But, if that person has a visible weapon (say in the waistband), moving them or allowing them to move, allows them access to that weapon. Increased exposure walking them out allows them to think. Them thinking is not good.

    I advocate progressively putting the person in an extreme position of disadvantage, only if we determine that person is armed or I would have to walk that person past occupied rooms to have them exit the house. “Never” is a strong word. Additionally your legal jepority detaining an armed home invader, especially when killing him is justified, in many states, is small. Especially if you could articulate the reasoning for the detainment.

    Regardless, this scenario is extremely rare….kinda like any civilian armed encounter. The frequency of the event does not determine the relevance of training for the event. In every class I have taught, at least one civilian has had an armed encounter with a person they did not shoot. No one, be idea LEO, has ever trained it.


    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I have to still disagree, however. My prose below may be a little pointed, but that’s for effect not lack of respect.

      1) You have more LE experience than I do, certainly. But, tongue in cheek, that means that I have more hours as a civilian than you. Does that count if we’re discussing civilian tactics? 🙂 Seriously, I believe you may be confusing appropriate LE tactics with appropriate civilian tactics. For example, when one of the Tier 1 SF guys writes or teaches, I listen very closely. But I also apply a heavy filter to what they say because their frame of reference if so much different from an LE or civilian frame of reference. Besides the biggie of ROE, they do not usually have to be concerned with scene and evidence preservation, witness location and management, discovery, or testimony. So with LE backgrounds I think we have to be careful not to go into LE mode when we think of how a situation should be handled. I had to catch myself here recently. Not long after I had retired out of LE, a friend was trying to get a trespasser off his business’ parking lot and the guy was being an asshole. I intervened, and after a couple rounds of “Sir, you need to leave”, responded to by static, what I found coming out of my mouth was “I need to see some ID”. No sooner had I said it than I realized it was a mistake because lacking arrest authority I had no way to back it up. This is a critical point for our discussion which I go into below.

      2) If someone is compliant, they are complying with your commands to stop being a threat. There they are – not being a threat. Just continue to cover them and call 911 and/or tell them to leave, issue “stop” commands if they re-aggress, or shoot if necessary.

      3) The laws around citizen’s arrest are very tricky in most places. They usually fall into a gray and ever-changing area. The only way to know if you are putting someone under citizen’s arrest and if you are justified in doing so – that month – is to subscribe to a easily useable case law service, which is expensive, and then dedicate the time an energy to keeping up with the case law. Do you? Do your students? Do your students even know the issues around citizen’s arrest? Do you teach them what those issues are? As an example of how tricky they can be: back when I was a cop, if I arrested someone in my state but outside my jurisdiction, it was a citizen’s arrest. As a cop the that citizen’s arrest was kosher if the DA determined that I had PC at the time for the arrest (felony only) and shit for me if she didn’t. But for a civilian, the arrest would only be OK if the person went on to actually be convicted of the felony for which the civilian’s citizen’s arrest was made. That’s a lot of maybe and a lot of nuance…plus who knows how the case law has evolved since then?

      4) If you choose to arrest a compliant person, do you really think they can or will follow all the complicated directions to turn away, do this, do that, and kneel down (which is commonly seen as an execution position)? They are hyped up, possibly stoned, and may not speak English. See my article in American Cop that I reference above for more discussion here.

      5) If they don’t follow your directions, either because they can’t follow them or just are screwing with you, what then? You have no way to enforce your commands! This is the crucial point. You are in the middle of a life-changing situation and you do not bluff! You only issue commands that you can back up. “Stop attacking me” or something similar is backed up by shooting. “Turn away from me” is backed up by…nothing. And once they realize that you are bluffing they will screw with you, push your buttons and push your limits. You have lost all authority. Now the BG has the power and you have surrendered yours, making the situation more dangerous for you.

      6) Can you construct any scenario that in your mind requires a citizen’s arrest and this fancy, hard-to-follow set of commands, that can’t be addressed by moving to a position of advantage and calling 911, all the while advising the BG not to come closer (or whatever) and/or to run away? I mean a situation that’s statistically more likely than the proverbial drunk monkey banging away at a typewriter and producing the entire works of Shakespeare?

      7) Every minute you spend teaching this choreographed arrest procedure is a minute you don’t spend teaching some useful skill. Are your students so proficient at all the useful stuff that this is a good use of time? Further, since using this tactic (as described in your post) can go sideways so easily (see 3, 4, and 5 above) do your scenarios in which your students drill it incorporate sideways branches and uncooperative BGs? Do you have your BG role-player say “fuck you” when told to turn around, pull up their t-shirt, etc? Do you have them do nothing but stare at the good guy? Take a slow step forward? Act crazy (which a lot of home invaders are)? And so on. In short, are you giving your students a false sense of confidence that they can actually pull this tactic off? (This latter is why I advise against using hostage targets – see my post ( below.)


  2. Ralph,

    How do I have someone at gunpoint and call 911 without splitting my attention badly to find/dial my phone. I’ve tested it. I lose a level of focus with the perp who caused me to draw on him in self defense. Im unwilling to bifurcate that focus.

    Other than a most cursory look for cover splits my attention the same way.

    At this point with gun drawn, Im talking to his hands and looking for movement which looks like he’s attempting to access a weapon.

    Telling him to turn around and walk/run away while maintaining my front sight on him seems lowest risk. Walking way is submission versus closing distance – if he does the latter I can legally articulate as manifest intent of a deadly threat with my gun pointed at him.

    I’d appreciate your opinion.

    I ask this question and suggest these risk management issues as a CHL holder, Ayoob MAG/Givens graduate, Paul Howe CSAT pistol standards practitioner, and having done lots of airsoft/knife force on force.


    • First, please don’t “maintain your front sight on him”. That is a bad, awful, no-good idea. You should challenge a suspect at the low ready. My original article on this subject (from 2008) is here – If you have access to the comments you can see more of my argument (as well as a bunch of not-well-thought-out you’re-going-to-get-cops-killed counters). But this is a subject for a future post.

      To your question. You can thumb dial with one hand (your non-gun hand) while holding the gun in your strong hand (like how the kids text), you can use the thumb of your strong (gun) hand while holding the phone in your other, or you can download an app (there’s many) that lets you create a speed-dial icon for your home screen. That’s what I did. I also created icons for the regular number of all my local PDs (in addition to one for 911) because that’s usually faster (in my area) than going thru the 911 center.

      Do all this from the strongest position of advantage you can get to, so the very quick glances at the phone are safe to do.

      Hope this helps.


    • Ralph, We are going to have to agree to disagree. This is easily trainable and pressure tested. This is an expansion of course work developed by Craig Douglas, Armed Movement in Structures. Between he and I we have taught this material to hundreds of people (Craig probably pushing into the thousands), with no issue training it or people retaining it and later using it in a scenario.

      Your argument regarding arrest really is pushing the envelope because you are DETAINING A BURGLAR (or worse) IN YOUR HOME! If you are doing this in public I could see your point, but when someone breaks into your home, in most states you could, justifiably, execute them. A quick google search will find many instances where this has happened and the homeowner was not charged (got sued, but not criminally charged).

      So we agree…the first command would be something along the lines of “Don’t Move”! What next. He doesn’t move, great he complied to your command. Now we tell him to run? You have just ceded control to him. You lost control of the situation by letting him move any way he wants. If I am moving him I want to verbally control him, I want to establish positional dominance. Positional dominance is when I have a time and/or maneuver advantage over another person. I could do this by freezing him and moving myself or by freezing him and then moving him with verbal instructions. The first instruction is to get his hands away from his waist so we establish a TIME and MANEUVER advantage. It will take him more time to get to his waist (if he has a weapon there) and we can easily observe him move towards his waist with his hands. At this point have we conducted a citizens arrest…absolutely not. Now I have him face away from me…this gives me another time and maneuver advantage, it make it very hard to attack me and allows me to direct him to an exit…one step at a time. Does this take some verbal agility, yeah some, but that’s what training is for. Is this the safest way to move someone…hell yes.

      I would argue that they have two choices: they either follow your commands or you take action. That action may be to kill them because you feared for your life and the life of your family. You attempted to allow them to leave, safely, and they continued to aggres, you have just added another layer to your justification to use deadly force. May be they become verbally aggressive after initially stopping, now what? Do you give a verbally aggressive person, who knows you are armed, and has been threatened with deadly force, freedom to do what they want. If I tell him to run, I lose control of his actions. I teach and believe in a multidisciplinary approach to self defense. Verbal agility, managing the situation, tactical movement, and the ability to use grappling and striking are part of the puzzle. Pressure testing your skills solidify them and allow you to access them under stressful situations.

      If you encounter someone in your home and issue a command (and you may decide not to and just mag dump him if the circumstances dictate) and he follows that command…he is compliant. If he is not compliant you have a decision to make. You need to train what to do. But, if he follows your initial command, your next commands are designed to put you in a better tactical situation. I am well aware of the difference between civilian and LEO. I have trained many civilians.

      Nowhere else to go with this…I am not going to convince you, thanks for the open and polite discussion.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s