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WINTER | 2024

Use of Vascular Neck Restraints in Law Enforcement

>> A Case Study of Spokane, Washington

Matthew J. Hickman, Robert M. Scales, Jared N. Strote, and John L. Worrall

Research

WINTER | 2024

Use of Vascular Neck Restraints in Law Enforcement

>> A Case Study of Spokane, Washington

Matthew J. Hickman, Robert M. Scales, Jared N. Strote, and John L. Worrall

After several high-profile events involving what was perceived as neck restraints of suspects by police, several local and state legislative bodies passed legislation restricting the use of the technique.  Federal agencies were prohibited from using the technique and agencies seeking grant funding was made contingent on banning the use by the agency. This was done despite law enforcement and medical communities stating proper application of the vascular neck restraint (VNR) enables officers to gain control of combative suspects withing 5 to 10 seconds without any negative health consequences.

 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2016 that 34% of police departments authorized the use of neck restraints/holds and 54% of agencies serving communities with more than one million citizens authorized the use of VNR. While substantial study has been conducted of the use of vascular restraints, little has been conducted of its use by law enforcement officers. In 2013, 45% of state and local law enforcement academies trained officers in the use of the control technique.

 

Because of the lack of data on the use of VNR by law enforcement officers, some neurologists held that a VNR is not a ‘safe’ technique. The problem is compounded by the image of an officer using the technique can ‘appear’ to be violent.

 

The purpose of this study was to provide information needed to make ‘data-driven decisions’ regarding the use of VNDs. To accomplish this, researchers utilized data from the Spokane, Washington police department, composed of 332 officers and 80 civilian employees. The department classified the VNR into two categories. Level I included those events in which the officer had no intent to ‘render the suspect unconscious’ but enabled the officer to employ the technique when the suspect was actively resisting the officer.  Level II events authorized the officer to ‘render the suspect unconscious’ and may be applied when the suspect was assaultive.  When reviewing the results, it is important to note officers do not report “low levels of physical force (soft hand techniques such as grappling, pulling, using body weight, pushing) unless there is an injury or complaint of injury.”

 

The study reviewed all 792 use of force reports generated between 2013 and 2020, which averaged about 99 incidents a year. A Police Force Analysis System (PFAS) was utilized to measure the proportionality of the officer’s use of force with the suspect’s resistance.  Officers employed the VNR 230 (29%) times ranging from 17.9% in 2015 to 44% in 2019. The study found the individuals who used VNR were more likely to be male (169% greater than females), slightly younger (reduced by 2% for each additional year) than others who subjected to different types of force. There was no statistical difference according to race, height, weight, body mass, or perceived as having a mental illness. VNR was also less likely to be utilized when the subject was a suicidal or armed (reduced by 45%). When subjects employed the ‘highest levels of resistance, physical non-compliance or active physical resistance, the odds of VNR increased 391%’ as compared with the other levels of resistance.

 

Prior to employing the VNR, officers utilized a greater number of force sequences (median of 4 compared with 3 in non-VRN responses), variety of tactics (median of 4 compared with 2), and number tactics (median of 5 compared to 2). This indicates officers utilized a variety of defensive maneuvers to restrain combative suspects prior to employing a VNR. Such that it was not utilized as the default response. Finally, there were no fatalities resulting from the use of VNR by officers during the eight-year period.

 

Collectively, the study revealed officers utilizing VNR were less likely to use other weapons (i.e. firearms, Tasers, canine, OC spray). In addition, there were fewer complaints of injuries from suspects when officers utilized the VNR (64.8%) when compared with other types of force (79.2%). Conversely, of the 15.7% of officers who were injured when using force, those employing the VNR made up a greater percentage, 26.5% as compared with 11.2% for other types of force.

Matthew Hickman
Jared Strote
John Worrall

Matthew J. Hickman, Robert M. Scales, Jared N. Strote, and John L. Worrall, “Use of Vascular Neck Restrains in Law Enforcement: A Case-Study of Spokane, WA”, Police Practice and Research, 2021,Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 1668- 1678.

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