WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — In a profession with life-or-death decisions, where every second matters, the Wilmington Police Department is training officers to keep their cool under pressure through practicing martial arts.
Since last year, each Wilmington police officer now receives at least four hours of law-enforcement-tailored jiu-jitsu instruction as part of their standard training.
Every week dozens of officers put away their guns and badges to pack into a training dojo, where despite the intense hand-to-hand combat, the atmosphere is curated for learning and cooperation.
Officer Ben Cookson, who helped start the program and instructs other officers, said their approach is crucial to instilling the control and composure that the discipline demands. Even when fighting for your life.
“It’s never about ego or who’s the biggest, toughest alpha male,” he said. “We’ve had over 300-plus trainings with no reported injuries.”
For officers like Eboni King, standing at about half the size of her peers, the training can be intense but provides a quiet assurance that’s reflected in the field.
“I’m 100% more confident putting on this uniform,” King said. “Just being a smaller officer, a female officer, people look at me and they may think they can take me. Unfortunately I’ve had to use this training more than a few times, more than I think I can talk about.”
Cookson said their jiu-jitsu training specializes in allowing an officer to control someone a lot bigger and stronger while using less effort through leverage and throwing off an opponent’s balance, principles that crossover well on the street.
According to Cpl. Christian Marshall, who also instructs the classes, the confidence instilled in officers shows right away and keeps many of them coming back for more training. The department offers additional training levels for those interested, and year-round ongoing education.
“One of the best things is the fact that our new officers, some of them will have spent 20 to 30 hours on the mat before ever hitting the street,” Marshall said.
“So they’re capable and confident that if I have to go hands-on with a person, I know how to handle it and we’re not relying on our taser or gun or baton — those things that are still not controlling the situation.”
The department plans to open up that kind of confidence to the general public, with two-day, female-only self-defense classes soon to be offered with an application expected online in early February.
For Cookson, with this type of training being standardized, it can mean the police department’s trainings finally matching up to the public’s expectations.
“The public thinks we’re really highly trained to handle a combative person but we’re really not,” he said. “You get a little bit of training… but now we’re meeting that expectation that they’ve had of us all along.”