tradecraft…use of force

while it’s true that your voice is your most important tool in herding cats…

sometimes words aren’t enough…

sometimes, no matter what you say–a kid will take it to the next level and the situation will escalate…so, what do you do then???

well, first let me say that this post primarily relates to working with kids in juvenile justice settings…though (nowadays) it could apply to those working in schools or other youth settings…

so, if they escalate–if they take it to the next level…you may have to “go hands-on” with a juvenile or “physically restrain” a child in your care…it’s a fact…

if you’ve been following the blog then you know that i’ve talked about takedowns before…though the focus of those other posts was different and the takedown that was referenced was, most often, peripheral to the main point of the post…

the story i’m going to share is significant for two reasons: 1) it highlights the importance of the use of force and defensive tactics in this profession (valuable skills to have) and 2) it was i time when i was pretty much on my own to “make the call” to use force…in this case, i was the only person that was going to stop someone from getting hurt…

let’s start off with a classic clip from jackie chan…to get us fired-up for the story…

now, that you’re sufficiently prepared for this…let’s get to the real life story…

juvenile justice case files: use of force (the incident)

it all started out as a normal day at the idaho youth ranch (a minimum-secure juvenile facility in central idaho)…i showed up for my day shift on saturday morning at 7:00 am…upon arrival, i greeted the night staff and we visited for a little while before getting down to business…then, we started “wake-up” and “morning chores” (each kid had an area of the unit, in addition to his own room, that he was responsible for keeping clean–the tasks didn’t take too long to complete, typically) before heading out to breakfast…

we were about an hour into our morning routine when the first curve ball came…it was the time when my ‘regular partner’ would normally show up and replace the night staff…except, on this particular morning my partner didn’t make it in…eventually, the call came and we got word from a supervisor that my partner was out sick and a sub would be there (shortly) …the sub who showed up was an older woman, late 50s…and someone who didn’t normally “work on the units” with the kids…so, when she got there i thought…this should be interesting

so, we got them through chores, breakfast, and onto to the day’s activities (which included some time in the gym, doing “house activities”, and with their horses-it’s a ranch after all-giddy up!)…throughout the day some of the kids were getting a little “mouthy” with each other–this could be best described as low-level, aggravating verbal exchanges that would flare up occassionaly…par for the course in this kind of work (in juvenile justice, most of your time is spent reminding kids about “what the expectations are” and redirecting them when they’re not doing what they need to–and, giving consequences, if needed; a lot of the kids who end up in these facilities have never had anyone set “boundaries” or “limits” for their behaviors…so, that was our role:)…anyways, early on i had a bad feeling in my gut…like something more serious was simmering just below the surface…

well, through lunch and into the early afternoon activities the initial low-level aggravation  grew into a larger unrest within the group…specifically, between two kids on my case load…kids we’ll call brett and andy…

their increased unrest was enough of a reason/warning sign to change the day’s plan..so, after conferring with my partner, i told the group we were heading back to the unit for some quiet time (where all residents would be in their rooms and quiet for a half-hour) to settle things down…during the walk back, brett and andy were still “going at each other” (verbally)…and their peers and i were trying to redirect them–at that time, the idaho youth ranch operated under a therapeutic philosophy called the “positive peer culture”…where the juveniles had a large stake in redirecting, confronting and helping their peers…and, generally speaking, such an environment had its advantages when trying to get the kids to comply with their program requirements (i mean, i could say something to a kid that he may or may not hear…but, when it’s a peer-especially in those teen years-it carries a lot of weight)…

anyways, neither the peers’ comments nor mine made any difference to brett and andy…they continued on in that same manner…and because we weren’t getting through, my next move was going to be ‘to speak with brett and andy individually’ while the others were in their rooms for quiet time…to try to head off any major trouble at the pass–but, as it turns out…i never got the chance to do that…

once we were “back on the unit”, i told all the kids to head to their rooms for quiet time…and every single youth complied, except for brett and andy…not only that, but their exchange got ‘more heated’…with brett beginning to threaten andy (like he was going to hurt him)…

it’s funny…i remember exactly where everyone was at this moment…it’s burned into my memory–andy was on my left, at the end of a hallway that led down to a series of rooms (including his own); brett was on my right, in the common room just outside the staff office (his room was not in the same hallway as andy’s); across from me, forming up the last corner of the diamond was my “partner for the day” (and she looked worried)…and honestly, i couldn’t blame her…i was worried, too…my heart was beating fast–i was sweating and hoping it wouldn’t go to the next level, you know…i don’t care who you are, but situations like this are extremely stressful, tense and unpredictable–and most people don’t like it when things escalate to this point…to the edge of physical conflict or violence…

so, we tried to stay calm ouselves…and redirect their behavior and get them to go to their rooms…by talking to them, by using our voices like we were trained to do…and while this tactic worked throughout the day to “diffuse little arguments” and “get them back on track”…it wasn’t working now…not at all…

in fact, their voices got louder and their language got more aggressive…neither one was backing down…

and then i knew what was going to happen, i knew it was going to hit the fan…so, press play on the eagles’ heartache tonight…you know how it goes, somebody’s gonna hurt someone, before the night is through…somebody’s gonna come undone, there’s nothing we can do…

so, i looked at my partner and nodded (she had a radio in her hand) and i said…

call for assistance…

(a ‘call for assistance’ would let the other staff in the other units know that there was a crisis “in-progress”, and that they should send any extra staff they had to our location as soon as possible)

anyways, once she clicked “the call button” and opened her mouth, brett lunged towards andy with his arm cocked (like he was going to hit him)…

and then, three things happened simultaneously…1) i grabbed brett mid-lunge; 2) andy bolted down the hallway and hid in his room; and 3) my partner disappeared…

once i had brett, i held him across the mid-section…he was struggling…he wasn’t fighting me as much as he was trying to get loose and pursue his target (andy)…but, he was thrashing…somehow, i managed to hold him in that way for a little while–importantly, although brett was just 15 years-old, he was my about my height/weight and he was a strong and athletic kid…so, this “up-right hold” was not ideal and i knew it wasn’t going to last for long (there was no way i could hold him like that until back-up arrived–it was not going to happen)…at the same time, i knew i couldn’t let go…so, i thought…

i’ve got to take him down myself–the sooner the better…

but before i did, i spoke to him, i told him (in my best raspy, clint eastwood voice)…

you’re going down…

(to this day, i don’t know what possessed me to say that…probably one too many 80s action flicks in my youth)

after i said those words, i spun him towards me and did an “outside of the foot sweep”–in judo, we call this throw osoto gari (large outer reaping)…and it can be really effective when done correctly…in this case, i nailed it and he went down (with me holding onto his shirt collar with one hand and his fore-arm/sleeve with my other hand) and i went down, too, on-top of him…as is the natural momentum/flow of this throw…esp. if you want to get them in a hold on the ground (which is what i wanted to do)…so, i went quickly into a side control hold (kuzure kesa gatame)…in this position, i had him and he wasn’t getting out…never-the-less, he still struggled and yelled…

so, i just held him there, pinned down (waiting for backup to arrive)…and i spoke to him againthis time i said…

it’s going to be alright, it’s going to be ok…

[to be continued…]

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