Officers from the Orwigsburg Police Dept. recently began training in a martial art that’s growing in popularity among police departments nationwide.
We met up with several officers from the local force on a recent Friday evening at Boa Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in the borough’s former public library building on E. Independence St.
At Boa Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, owner Seth Thomas is helping borough officers learn maneuvers he says helps police gain control of a potentially dangerous situation in a non-lethal way.
The local force is only the latest to adopt this grappling technique nationwide.
Police and some use-of-force advocates believe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an effective means of controlling potentially dangerous and violent situations. They say it reduces officer injuries, arrestee injuries, and keeps their tasers on their belts more often.
Orwigsburg Police Training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Thomas says he’s developing a customized course for the officers based on their needs and the fundamentals of the sport in which he’s fully invested. He’s achieved black belt status in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
On the night we attended, Orwigsburg officers paired up with each other and some of Thomas’ trainers to learn BJJ moves that help police subdue suspects, especially the ones who don’t want to go without some resistance.
“Every week, we just build on the basics,” Thomas says. “It’s so they don’t have to use their tasers or their guns. It’s a safe way to control, to subdue, to arrest someone without having to strike them. It looks better in the public’s eye and it’s safer for the (suspect). If they hit someone, there’s a lawsuit. But if you’re hugging someone and controlling them, there’s no lawsuit. It’s better for everyone, the (suspects) and the police.”
Safety and Confidence
Since he’s got no law enforcement background, Orwigsburg officers are helping Thomas to customize his teachings to adapt to the real-life scenarios the police are likely to encounter at work.
These local officers started taking this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu course after Orwigsburg Police Chief Vincent McDonald approached Thomas when he’d been assigned to his new position in town. He’d taken some Jiu Jitsu classes at his previous assignment.
“I wanted to bring the defensive tactics and training to this department,” McDonald says.
And since the force has started participating at this voluntary training at Thomas’ gym, at least two of the officers have joined as members.
McDonald explains that there’s not only a physical advantage to learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a police officer, but a mental plus, too.
“This type of self-defense helps protect us but also helps protect the people we’re trying to take into custody,” he says. “We’re able to control them better. We can control somebody easier. And the officers are more confident in doing that.”
McDonald stressed the confidence that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training builds in himself and the officers under his command. He believes the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training is a great way to prevent potentially unruly suspects from creating dangerous situations when they’re about to get arrested.
“I’m trying to better train my own officers so that they’re more confident in themselves and they can protect themselves and protect others. The guys are more confident in themselves,” he says.
Adopt-A-Cop Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
There’s a non-profit organization dedicated to aligning police officers with local Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training.
Unfortunately, the funding the organization receives typically goes out as fast as it comes in and we’re told there’s a considerable wait list to have police get their BJJ lessons funded.
That’s part of the reason why McDonald reached out to a local gym owner to make their own arrangement.
Photos: Coal Region Canary