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Research

2024 | SUMMER

“Curb Sitting”

An Evidence-Based Policing Practice or an Officer Safety Myth?

David Blake, Joel Suss, Duane Wolfe, and Guler Arsal

Research

2024 | SUMMER

“Curb Sitting”

An Evidence-Based Policing Practice or an Officer Safety Myth?

David Blake, Joel Suss, Duane Wolfe, and Guler Arsal

The term reactionary gap refers to the distance an officer should maintain from a suspect to enable them to identify and respond to a physical assault. Often referred to as the “21-foot rule”, a variety of factors influence an officer’s reaction including distance, speed, and time. Other factors include their equipment (holsters, Tasers) and decision-making ability. Some researchers have referred to the 21-foot rule as anecdotal and insufficient.

 

“Curb sitting” is a technique widely used by police officers when they require a suspect to sit on the ground with their legs extended and ankles crossed. The purpose of this technique is to provide an officer with a better opportunity to recognize and respond to a suspect’s attempt to flee or assault the officer.

 

Some critics have described the technique as being ‘unnecessary and demeaning’. This has led some agencies, such as the San Francisco Police Department, to restrict the use of the practice. Despite the long-time usage of curb sitting, there has been “no known empirical research supporting efficacy” of the technique.

 

The purpose of this study was to determine if there was evidence-based support for using the curb sitting technique. To accomplish this, researchers sought to answer four questions:

 

  1. Are suspects sitting on a curb with their legs extended (with ankles crossed or uncrossed) slower to get up and sprint five feet than sitting with their knees bent and ankles crossed?
  2. Are suspects sitting on a curb with their legs extended and ankles crossed slower to get up and sprint five feet than when sitting with their legs extended but with their ankles uncrossed?
  3. How fast can a standing subject sprint across distances of 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet?
  4. Based on the data gathered to address the preceding three questions, does the use of the curb-sitting tactic afford officers an advantage in response time when compared to allowing subjects to stand?

 

In the first of two studies researchers engaged 43 basic academy students to sit in each of the three sitting positions. The times were measured for individuals to move from the three different sitting positions, run five feet, and strike a bag. Each student performed each of the three sitting positions three times for a total of nine measurements. They found when the average time for subjects to move from legs extended with ankles crossed or uncrossed was compared to the bent knees/ankles uncrossed was statistically significant. The average time differences between participants to move from extended legs that were crossed or uncrossed was not statistically significant.

 

In a separate group of 105 participants, the average times were determined for individuals starting in standing position to travel 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet. The differences between each of the various distances were statistically significant.  In addition, students who travelled the distance from a sitting position took more time than those who were standing.

 

The researchers recommended to mitigate the risk of an attack, officers should request/instruct suspects to sit “with their legs extended” and “position themselves “more than five feet away when possible”. In addition, they recommended officers deploy weapons (i.e. Taser, pepper spray, handgun) to reduce their response times. They added, when possible, officers should consider employing other methods, such as strategic car placement, to slow an attack.  

 

David Blake, Joel Suss, Duane Wolfe, and Guler Arsal, “Curb Sitting: An Evidence-Based Policing Practice or an Officer Myth?, Police Practice and Research, 2023, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 109 – 121.

david-blake

David Blake

Duane Wolfe

Duane Wolfe

Guler Arsal

Guler Arsal

Joel Suss

Natalie Sellers

Natalie Sellars

Natalie Sellars has served as a Senior Law Enforcement Risk Consultant with Local Government Risk Management Services (LGRMS) for the past 10 years.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Augusta State University and a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from Troy University. Previously she served as a parole officer, academy instructor, and Assistant Chief with the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.