USA Judo is working with law enforcement to launch judo training workshops for police officers so they can learn the skills to subdue suspects without relying on deadly force.
The inaugural judo training workshop was held at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, where officers from all over the nation were taught specific verbal de-escalation tactics and judo techniques instead of more-lethal alternatives. It was the first of many, with more workshops coming soon to other cities.
Joe Yungwirth, a trainer at the workshop with a background in counter-terrorism for the FBI, said the workshops are a way to mend the way police engage with the public, with less emphasis on deadly force.
“The social contract between police officers and the public is degrading a bit. All law-enforcement officers I know, we feel we need to bring that back in line somehow,” he said.
Jim Bacon, a police officer in Lafayette, Colorado, and former athlete on the U.S. judo team agreed, saying that providing more training and a greater skillset could help avoid some of the most damning encounters with suspects.
“The cop resorts to higher levels of force than should’ve been used. If they have more skills, they might not have to rely on the gadgets on the belt,” he said of these encounters.
The program is sponsored by USA Judo, a nonprofit Olympic training organization. The six-person team based in Colorado has helped the likes of Ronda Rousey and Kayla Harrison win Olympic medals, and is now transitioning from their mission of creating Olympic champions to providing specialized training to police departments during the pandemic.
Because of the effect the pandemic has had on the organization, with many of its sanctioned clubs across the country being forced to close, the organization is looking to reinvent itself. USA Judo CEO Keith Bryant hopes that by utilizing judo, police will have more real-world skills at their disposal, and it will also help increase the sports’ popularity.
“This hits a societal issue. And for us, it has potential to get more people on the mat.”
According to the AP, judo is a “gentler” martial art that places less emphasis on hitting and more on holds and takedowns, which can have a useful role in policing.
Taybren Lee and Mike Verdugo, who helped plan the training conference, acted as suspects who were mentally unstable or impaired, and guided officers in employing judo to defuse the situation. Much of the training was focused on the optics of police interactions.
“If we can talk to you, if we can keep you up, that’s going to change the whole visual, especially when people have their iPhones recording,” Verdugo said. “This is a matter of keeping you up on your feet and not grinding you into the ground.”
USA Judo is offering free memberships to officers who participate in the training.
“The public wants police officers to be better trained,” Bacon said. “That’s why we’re trying to integrate judo, so we can be more effective in these situations without hurting the other person.”