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A warning about banning “chokeholds”

There are a lot of politicians and administrators making knee-jerk decisions right now. There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings regarding “chokeholds” out there right now.

First, a CHOKE implies an obstruction or disturbance of the airway. This is extremely dangerous, mainly for the increased potential of collapse/injury to the subject’s airway. However, what is commonly referred to as a “chokehold” in police work is the temporary and partial occlusion of blood flow to the brain of a subject, therefore, reducing the oxygen supplied to the brain.

When applied properly the spinal structural integrity is maintained, the subjects airway is not damaged, and soft tissue in the neck is not compromised. Currently most States/Departments only allow “chokeholds” at deadly force or as a “weapon of last resort.” This is not a very acceptable place for this category of technique on the spectrum of force. For a properly applied “choke” to be effective it will require approximately nine (9) seconds of application before the subject is rendered unconscious. For an officer to deploy deadly force, she/he must believe that someone’s life is in imminent danger or their is a reasonable and imminent danger of great bodily harm due to the subject’s actions, and the officer needs to stop the subject’s actions immediately, not in 9 seconds, but NOW.

Now, we have an approximately 25 year case study of the application of “chokes.” With the explosive rise in the popularity of mixed martial arts and jiujitsu in the early 1990s there have been millions of chokes applied in training and competition with almost no documented cases of death or permanent injury.

Understand that in law enforcement there is a range of force that officers apply. This range of force is referred to by various names depending on department. This range falls between two categories of force, most commonly referred to as intermediate and hard empty hand controls. This spectrum includes punching, kicking kneeing, baton strikes, pepper or OC spray, or taser deployment. The next level up from here is deadly force (i.e. shooting a subject).

I believe that there is a void there that can be filled by safely training officers to deploy vascular choke holds. This should not be considered deadly force since officers will face the common scrutiny of “if you were justified in deadly force, why didn’t you just shoot her/him?” It also, sends the message to officers that you are better off punching an assaultive or actively resisting suspect in the face multiple times or striking them in various parts of their body with a metallic baton than you are applying a properly trained and executed vascular neck restraint, ending the struggle in approximately 9 seconds, handcuffing the subject, placing them in the recovery position, and calling for a medical assessment by EMS.

Now we run into another common objection: “choke holds” (I prefer the term vascular neck restraints) are too complicated and too dangerous to teach to an average officer. But, we trust our officers with guns. With a firearm there is a much higher probability of death or permanent injury not only to the subject but to bystanders and citizens in the vicinity. If we are trusting officers with guns we can trust them with vascular neck restraints, IF PROPER TRAINING IS PROVIDED. Oh boy, “if proper training is provided,” don’t get me started on the subject of the appropriate amount of training for police.

A properly trained and applied vascular neck restraint could have prevented a number of officer involved shootings, including some of the most recent. Regardless of your stance on vascular restraints, I hope we can agree on this, we can’t set policy based on knee-jerk reactions after publicized use of force incidents. Decisions on tactics and policy need to be made promptly, however, they need to be based on research and science.

About the author:

Amir Khillah is a retired professional fighter, holds a Master ' s degree in Human Performance, a Bachelor ' s degree in Exercise Physiology/kinesiology, a Police Academy Subject Control Instructor, a police officer, and the founder of Centurion Moderns Subject Control. For more information about officer Khillah or Centurion Modern Subject Control, please visit

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