City Officer Lays Groundwork For New Defensive Tactic Standards

Officer Jay Wadsworth, pictured outside the Jamestown Police Department on Second Street, has helped teach officers updated defensive tactics implemented by the department. The program used by city officers has been adopted by agencies across the state. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

Beginning in 2011, Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings took it upon himself to begin instituting some changes in the tactics that his officers use, specifically the defensive tactics.

Taking a big-picture look at what was mandated of his department, Snellings wanted to embark on the next step in making sure that his officers were better prepared when it came to physical contact.

“As an agency we took a look at what we were doing as far as our defensive tactics, and I wanted a change,” Snellings said. “We want to look at minimizing injury to both our officers and the people that we deal with. Our focus was on controlling individuals and changing some of the defensive tactics that were being taught, that we felt a lot of it, was ineffective and antiquated.”

Before the department’s shift to improved training over the past several years, those basic tactics included a reliance on things like pressure points and pain compliance during physical altercations. Simply put, there was plenty of room for improvement.

“We wanted to take what we were doing also to the ground, because realistically a lot of our encounters end up on the ground, and we wanted to make sure our officers were comfortable on the ground and being able to get a position of advantage whether they were on the top or the bottom,” Snellings said.

Luckily, the Jamestown Police Department had just the right officer to help lead the charge into a new era of defensive tactics–Jay Wadsworth.

A trained mixed-martial artist with 12 amateur and five professional fights to his credit, Wadsworth shared the vision of his chief of an improved defensive tactics curriculum.

After beginning his fight training in 2005, Wadsworth has gone on to earn his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the ground-fighting style that is now the standard bearer in professional mixed martial arts and beyond.

“What we looked at was transitioning from cops being taught more pain compliance to control tactics,” Wadsworth said of the new focus. “And the reason we did that is because there were multiple different studies coming out showing that pain compliance… there was a very low percentage of pain compliance being effective with all the drug use, alcohol, mental health (situations) coming out. So pain-compliance techniques were really failing police officers.”

It was in 2011 that Wadsworth first became certified as a defensive tactics instructor through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which regulates and outlines the training required of police officers. As such, Wadsworth was responsible for leading his department’s defensive training.

In the process of integrating his experiences as an officer on the street and a fighter in the gym, Wadsworth developed a four-point system of tactics that focuses on maintaining mobility, creating angles, engaging and disengaging at the right times, and transitioning between tactics and weapons systems.

“Once (officers) graduate the academy and go to a department, it’s not mandated that each department teach defensive tactics (DT),” Wadsworth said. “So that’s kind of a lack in training in the profession that needs to change.”

“The chief wanted to change that here. So now we do two refreshers in the spring and in the fall. I’ve been re-doing the program. Originally started with our DT instructors and a couple of our sergeants that are now lieutenants. They all played a role in building the program whether it was helping out with videos or being part of the program as far as the techniques.”

With the Jamestown Police Department enjoying the success of their new DT program, which actively works to mitigate use of force issues, other departments and officers around the state began to take notice of the positive change.

It was in January of last year that Wadsworth received an email from a fellow instructor letting him know the state was planning to overhaul its basic academy curriculums for defensive tactics, which had not been updated since before 2000.

“It’s been a progression from 2011 to the point where the state kind of took notice of what we were doing,” said Snellings.

Following a conference call and a meeting with representatives of DCJS, Wadsworth’s training and the Jamestown Police Department were chosen as new DT curriculum model.

“They basically decided to go with me as running lead on revamping the DCJS curriculum for the basic (academy) and for the DT instructor certification. So I’ve spent all year re-doing that,” Wadsworth said.

In addition to the general improvement in physical tactics and conditioning that will come with the new program, which was rolled out to current DT instructors during a refresher course in August at the Monroe County Public Safety Facility, Wadsworth hopes that having a concept-based system will pay dividends in the future.

“Every academy will be teaching the exact same curriculum to everybody, and it will be more based on concepts and control. So that’s going to be good, once someone gets out of the academy, they come in to us, they’re going to already know our DT system,” Wadsworth said.

Beginning next year, all new DT instructors at the state level, excluding New York State Police and the New York City Police Department, will be teaching Wadsworth’s system to new officers.

Moving forward, Wadsworth’s focus will remain on keeping the new system progressive, listening to the officers that he works with to cut things that don’t work and add tactics that do.

“I’m getting lots of experience in teaching, I’m teaching lots of different police officers from big cities, small cities, rural, urban, and I get to talk to all these guys. ‘What’s working? What’s not?'”.

Those new tactics that are working on the streets could soon be assimilated into Wadsworth’s, and New York state’s, system.