“They beat police and don’t respect them.” Combat training failure in the Russian MIA 

“They beat police and don’t respect them.” Combat training failure in the Russian MIA
Photo: The CrimeRussia

Recent incidents with Russian operatives falling victims to criminals or attacked by street hooligans indicate that something is wrong. Officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation do not possess essential combat skills and, therefore, may not be true guardians of law and order.

Several FSB operatives were recently battered in a Moscow cafe in the course of a ‘toilet scandal’. A series of attacks on policemen occurred in Tula, including shooting of a sergeant of the Patrol and Sentry Service with a pistol seized from him and knocking out a road traffic safety inspector by a drunk driver later detained by civilians. On May 13, 2019, a drunk street racer has broken the little finger of a Road Patrol Service inspector... This list may be continued indefinitely.

Why law enforcement officers, whose duty is to protect civilians, cannot defend themselves? What happens? Why the combat training in the police and other security services is so poorly organized? How long has this situation been lasting, what are the reasons behind it, and how can it be improved? Why the training received by operatives is often useless in real conflicts? How is this training organized and delivered?

The CrimeRussia decided to review the situation currently observed in the MIA (and other enforcement agencies).

To obtain expert explanations, we have addressed an officer of the Department of Firearms, Physical, Tactical, and Special Training at one of the MIA’s universities. The source used specific terms, was unable to explain some practical aspects and tell us what has to be done to break out of the vicious circle, and even claimed that “the current training system existing in Departments of Internal Affairs makes it possible to fulfil all duties assigned to the police without distracting officers from other service activities”. We consider this statement too vague and not really consistent with the reality. 

Therefore, we addressed a retired SWAT operative – former hand-to hand fight instructor – who currently works as a trainer in a mixed martial arts club. The former special service trooper has shared with us some interesting information. 

— Hi! We are working on an analytical article dedicated to attacks on law enforcement officers. Assailants punch and kick them, use crowbars and axes, and even shoot operatives with service weapons seized from them. Very few officers are able to neutralize the attackers. Why is it so?

— I can tell you. But the problem is pretty complicated, it cannot be explained in brief. My knowledge, especially in legal matters, may be insufficient. Can we meet in two days? I will bring two my acquaintances.

Two days later, our vis-а-vis came accompanied by an operative of the MIA General Administration and an officer of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The prosecutor started the conversation:

— When my friend told me about the topic of this meeting, I immediately agreed to come. These signals are really bad. Today, they batter policemen, tomorrow – us, then – judges... This is because of the legal mess and excessive regimentation in the MIA. On the one hand, gaps in the legislation grant enormous powers to the police (resulting in accusations of lawlessness); on the other hand, they make operatives defenseless in real conflicts with criminals. Such a collision... 

— What legal mess? 

— For instance, the Law On the Police includes a clause allowing officers to use combat techniques and regulating the reasons for their use. This is the legal gap number one.


— But why? 

— Because the term “combat” is not explained. This enables operatives of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) or Prosecutor’s Office interpreting it as broadly as they wish. They say, for instance: “You have punched Vasya and gave him a bruise. But you had no right to hit him! The law stipulates only wrestling – throws, locks, etc.” 

— Combat involves struggle, conflict, fight... Why do they interpret it so unilaterally? 

— Because statistics has become the main priority for the governmental service – both in the police and supervising authorities. As a result, officers go to jail for giving somebody a thick ear, which is interpreted as “an exceedance of official powers”. The courts accept this. Courts, prosecution authorities, and the ICR ‘cover-up’ each other at the local level. However, if just a couple of phrases are changed... 

— What has to be changed? 

— For instance, the Law On the State Courier Service states that “commanding officers of the Federal Courier Service have the right to use physical force, including hand-to-hand fight techniques, for...” Here is the difference! The term “hand-to-hand fight” eliminates the ambiguity, which is very important! 

— I can imagine police officers spurring a detainee with ‘friendly’ kicks and punches – instead of twisting his arms behind the back. 

— If somebody beats a detainee on the way to the prison truck or mistreats him, this is a crime that must be severely punished. But this refers to the moral qualities of the MIA officer – not to his combat training. In any country, if an officer wants to abuse you, he has plenty of ways to do so. For instance, he may handcuff you tightly, thus, inflicting pain. Or twist your arm to the back of your head. This causes terrible pain and does not leave traces. Overall, it is necessary to clamp down on tortures, introduce a separate article for torture statistics, and prosecute operatives for this – not for exceedance of official powers. And, most importantly, it is necessary to change the practices. 

— What practices?

— Practices of using combat techniques and punches. Sometimes you can see on video records how patrol policemen or district inspectors are trying to detain a hooligan – this often happens under security cameras. They hang on him like dogs on a bear – while he is shaking them. People see this and make conclusions on what is permitted and what is not. However, in case of malevolent resistance, a couple of punches would immediately make the hooligan sober... 

— But the police may start beating everybody. 

— If the right approach is taken, they won’t. On the other hand, villains in uniform may beat anybody even now. 

— What other legal problems are in place? 

— For instance, the prohibition to draw firearms preventively. As you say, attackers have recently seized the pistol from a policeman in Tula – because he had neither drawn it nor set ready as they were approaching. Why hadn’t the officer done this? Because he was taught so. Here is another example – on July 23, 2013, a Deputy’s son accompanied by guests from the Caucasus had blocked the highway and obstructed the traffic. A traffic safety inspector armed with a handgun approached them – and they battered him with a baseball bat. He simply had no time to draw the weapon. And the law prohibited him to approach such a gang with the equipped gun – because they hadn’t attacked him yet and were not killing nobody. On the other hand, it is obvious that a mob of aggressive thugs is dangerous. The reasons behind their behavior are unknown. Maybe, they are arguing how to take away a corpse in the trunk? Therefore, the policeman should have the right to approach such groups with equipped weapon and give them enforceable commands from the distance. This would eliminate the need to dispatch SWAT to chase bandits...


— There are so many ‘victims’ among the police at public rallies... The protesters have spat at one officer, plucked the sleeve of another one, snatched the strip of the third one, squeezed the hand of the fourth “inflicting physical pain”... And criminal cases are instituted in relation to all such incidents.... 

— This is about the politics and those involving law enforcement structures in this. In a normal situation, a snatched strip falls under Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (failure to follow a lawful order of a police officer) – i.e. this is not a criminal offense. But instructions ‘from above’ require to lock up people for such actions. You either obey the orders or resign. Another problem is that, according to my observations, some ICR investigators started enjoying the role of ‘the secret political police’, which is a very questionable honor. I finished. The two other persons will provide explanations with regards to the practices. 

The retired SWAT trooper joins the conversation. 

— The current structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not provide conditions for personnel training in practical skills. All outstanding persons are ‘washed out’ from there; only back scratchers remain. This is a bad practice; it does not contribute to the mass preparation of strong and brave professionals. The policemen became an ‘expendable material’. Their training became a profanation. In addition, the people are overwhelmed with paperwork. Endless alerts, duty shifts, overtime service, cheap gibes... They have no time to train. The methodology suggested by the ministry resembls a narcotic dream – the Order № 450 of July 1, 2017 and earlier similar orders are just an attempt to seize the unseizable without taking the reality into consideration. As a result, we have ‘victims in uniform’ unable to run away or defend themselves. 

— Why? What is wrong? 

— It is easier to say what is right. This order and the current system of passing tests on non-resisting opponents is a blatant profanation and eye-washing; it directly contradicts the martial arts methodology. The order is difficult-to-read because the ‘geniuses’ in the MIA General Administration had tried to describe every small detail with sharply defined notions. I don’t know whether any of them had fought in their lives or not, but any combat is an improvisation. The trainer does not say: “hand up, rotate hips”. The trainer says: “do as I am doing”. And then corrects mistakes. The order is trying to give everything: throws, locks, painful and submission holds, punches, their combinations, physical training, etc... And the icing on the cake are techniques against weapons, especially against the knife. The most useless part, which is strictly required by the command. The situation is paradoxical: police officers, who are masters and candidate masters of sports in contact martial arts and able to arrest virtually any criminal (who are not world champions, of course), are unable to pass these tests.

— So, what is the difference with hand-to-hand combat training of professional athletes? 

— Nobody can master all the knowledge. Nobody. Take unarmed self-defense, judo, or freestyle wrestling – there are more similarities than differences between these sports. The best wrestlers – Karelin, Emel’yanenko (a former champion in unarmed self-defense), Yarugin, etc. – know and practically use 10–12 techniques as maximum. This includes the ability to dictate this technique to the opponent and use it in any position against an opponent of any level. Ten mastered techniques is a lot. If the level of the fighter is high enough, this is sufficient for nearly all situations. Or take boxing. Three different punches. Several their variants. A few dodging, blocking, and slipping techniques. That’s it. But boxing is one of the most efficient street fighting tools.    


— Why is it so? 

— Because it is relatively simple, and the fighters are studying its moves for many times every day. They check their skills in sparring that quickly shows what is wrong. They do so for years. Wrestlers train in a similar manner and struggle against live opponents. As a result, any athlete will beat a tired cop who had wrestled last time three months ago under duress and whose mind is focused on cases, plans, schemes, reports, tables, etc. – but not on sports. What sports are we talking about if the policeman often has no time to think about the solution of crimes! 

— What about the techniques against weapons? To seize the knife or strike it from hand... Isn’t this idea good? The police should know how to do such things. Or not? 

— These techniques against knives don’t work at all. And are not useful in a real fight at all. 

— But why? 

— Because a 17-year-old boy with a knife moving forward and making quick swings will kill you with a probability of 99% and will kill me with a probability of 70%. Nobody uses the knife as they teach to defend against. No individual amplitude stabs – but the blade chaotically is messing around combined with punches of the second hand and kicks. A quick approach – and the knife is in your body. Most importantly, unlike a club, stick, or morning star to stab a person with a knife, you don’t need a strike – just a poke. It is virtually impossible to block the hand of an aggressive person. 

— No chance at all? Now I understand you criticism of the techniques taught in the MIA – but what should be done? 

— There is a chance. It is not that bad – subject to wise tactics. The attacker with a knife is not d'Artagnan. He is not skilled in cold weapons. So, he moves forward and swings the knife. It is important to feel the distance and not allow the opponent to reduce it. You may kick him in the armed hand while moving backwards, kick his stomach and groin, make ‘cross punches’... And maneuver, maneuver, maneuver. Look for sand to dust his eyes, spray gas in his face (if you have it). If you are armed, immediately cock the gun and shoot. People using this tactics often overcome their opponents armed with a knife. But those trying to wrestle with a knife-bearing enemy normally are stabbed. This is a paradox: under otherwise equal conditions, a wrestler is stronger than a puncher – but a drunk punk will more likely stab to death a wrestler than a person preferring to punch...


— How does this apply to the modern police and self-defense training of its officers? 

— By no means. The modern policemen are not trained. Instead, they have to “reach qualifying standards”. These standards have nothing to do with the reality. 

— Let us discuss some specific situations. I will read examples found on the Internet – and you will comment and explain what the operatives had to do in order to neutralize the threat. For instance, on June 10, 2016, an aggressive passenger had tried to seize a subway car on Belorusskaya station in Moscow. The brawler resisted the police and struck one of the officers on the head with a wrench several times. Despite the trauma, the policeman managed to subdue the troublemaker – but was hit in the head at least three times and sustained a closed cranio-cerebral injury and cleaving of soft tissues. Had the officer acted in the right way? 

— If he managed to subdue, then he had acted in a relatively right way. But, of course, three hits on the head with a piece of iron is an excessive price for a brawler. The guy was likely brave – but not properly trained. What is a wrench? It is a short and heavy club. The blow is delivered from above or diagonally. Only those familiar with fencing may deliver a stab or side blow. Therefore, the blowing hand can be easily blocked while approaching the opponent. The main thing is to prevent him from hitting you with the end of the wrench (or a bate, crowbar, etc.). So, it is necessary to approach the opponent and throw him. If it is impossible to throw (e.g. there is a wall behind), then punch him in the jaw with the right hand. Your stretched hand will cover the head and block the blow. 

— On November 18, 2018, an intoxicated resident of Kirovsk, born 1993, yelling obscenities, had tried to bash the door in an apartment. Prior to the arrest, got a glass bottle and used it as a weapon to hit a police officer on the head. The policemen sustained a degloving wound of the forehead. What was done wrong? 

— First, an aggressive drunkard was not handcuffed. He had resisted the arrest, correct? So, there were reasons to handcuff him. Second, the bottle. Why was he allowed to take it. Based on the trauma description, the blow was delivered from above. The operatives had time to block it. But their skills were insufficient. But again, the main mistake was in the beginning – the offender was not immobilized and allowed to flap arms. Such people can do anything, this must be well understood. He could also pull on a knife and stab somebody...

— On February 16, 2018, a man was in his apartment and tried to resist legitimate actions of police officers who had arrived at his home following a report of a paramedic of the Orel Regional Psychiatric and Neurological Facility. The offender has hit one of the operatives several times with a prying bar in head and body. The officer was hospitalized with a cranio-cerebral trauma and closed rib fractures. 

— This case is more complicated. They entered the home of a psycho... In such situations, it is necessary to understand that a mentally ill person may have a grenade launcher under his bed, not just a prying bar. The incident report does not specify how was the first blow delivered – surprisingly or during an open confrontation. What about the medic? Has he warned the squad that the patient was dangerous or not? If it was a surprising attack, then no comments. This may happen to everybody and not only in the police. Of course, caution must be exercised when you are inside a psycho’s home. It is difficult to evade such a blow without a shield. The fractured ribs indicate that the attacker had delivered side blows. But if the fight had escalated from an argument, the officers had to prepare the tear gas and rubber batons. If they were operatives or district inspectors, they could be not equipped with batons. But they had to obtain tear gas – either at the police station or purchase it themselves. If you see a person attacking you with a crow bar, kick him with your foot or approach him and either punch or wrestle. A prying bar is not a knife – it is useless in close combat.

 — Vorkuta, December 2017. The local police station received a break-and-enter report. A law enforcement officer arrive to the scene and found there a 20-year-old guy trying to break into somebody’s garage using a prying bar. During the arrest, the intoxicated man has hit the policemen on the head several times. The injured criminal investigation operative managed to neutralize the assailant using the firearm. The policeman sustained an open cranio-cerebral trauma. The burglar survived. 

— It is necessary to dismiss the officer on duty who had sent the operative alone and head of the police station who had allowed this. Who knows how many burglars are there? How are they armed? The break-and-enter may be committed by an individual with a prying bar or by a gang on a tip. Such people may have firearms. The policeman was brave but poorly trained. You see somebody trying to break the door with a piece of iron. You have no idea what is on his mind. You don’t know what is inside the garage. There may be a sack of potatoes or a car worth millions. There are formal elements of a grievous crime in place. Cock your PM pistol, keep a distance of 4–5 meters and give commands threatening with your weapon. Of course, this is easier said than done. If he attacks you with the prying bar – the law is on your side. But what if he tries to run away? The ICR may jail you for shooting a fleeing person. The elements of a grievous crime are formal. They may say: “he has neither killed, nor raped, nor robbed anybody”. Just a “peaceful burglar” – and you shot him dead. Sorry, but we need good statistics – welcome to the pretrial detention facility. And your department of internal security will help us to incarcerate you. Therefore, this question should be addressed not only to me – but also to my colleague from the Prosecutor’s Office (nods to the first respondent). With regards to the hand-to-hand combat, recommendations are the same. If the opponent is alone, then approach him with punches and then wrestle to subdue. Speaking of the legal aspect... V. (the prosecutor), can you tell us whether an operative firing a pistol at a fleeing thief can end up behind bars?


After some thinking, the prosecutor responds

— Yes, he can end up in jail. Not everywhere, everything depends on the local conditions; laws are interpreted differently in various regions, but still... He is lucky if prosecuted under Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers). They can charge him with murder as well; police officers are poorly protected against this. 

— But why everybody is talking about the “police lawlessness” if it is so easy to prosecute an operative? 

— The lawlessness primarily refers to tortures in police station, refusals to terminate criminal proceedings even you have provided hard evidence of your innocence (because this worsens the performance statistics), operative provocations, etc. However, out cop is poorly protected ‘in the field’.

The retired SWAT officer joins the conversation again: 

— I agree. Before the interview, we agreed that each of us tells about his sphere. The third person is a specialist in the security matters. 

The operative of the MIA General Administration provided the most sarcastic remarks and comments. He does not possess sufficient hand-to-hand combat skills – but understands well the heart of the problem and its origin. The poor personnel training in martial arts is only a small portion of the issue.

We are talking about the hand-to-hand combat and the need to find the right approach to this matter. But we forgot the most important thing: the police is not respected anymore. Everybody knows that, in case of any problem, the supreme command won’t support the policeman. It is very easy to terminate an unwanted officer or even put him behind bars. Unlike civil services, MIA operatives are not paid for overtime work, holidays, and week-ends. In most regions, the positions, starting from deputy heads of district MIA departments, are purchased for money. The performance is assessed by the paperwork skills – not by practical results. Commanders may reprimand you for mastering wrestling or boxing because they don’t like this ‘rubbish’ and, being fat and short of breath, envy athletes. There is no independent professional union in the police, while little ‘kinglets’ feel themselves invulnerable and commit lawlessness at the local level.

— Is the situation really so bad? 

— It is much worse! Honestly, I do not understand how could the things degrade so much? Terrible and absurd bureaucracy. Blatant disregard of subordinates’ interests. Readiness to betray a serviceman in case on any threat to their own well-being. Creation of clans; this clans follow the generals to all places of service. Staff overage, including HR departments, rear services, headquarters, controlling structures, and accounting. All these people, who are, in fact, parasites, receive salaries. In order to justify their existence, they produce more and more directives and guidelines, demand to fulfill crazy orders, and disorganize the work of specialists. 

— Can any of you suggest something to change the situation and make the police officer a true guardian of the society? If not morally, then, at least, physically? What should be done to put an end to the beating of the policemen? We just criticize the situation – but don’t offer a solution...

The respondents provided a collective answer to this question: it is necessary to rectify defects in the legislation and correct the terms; stop the prosecution of police officers for reasonable self-defense and defense of others using weapons; establish a real professional union in the police; and punish local bosses considering themselves above the minister. The former SWAT operative has commented on the combat training methodology as follows: 

— There is no need to issue new orders. It is just necessary to introduce in each department 2-hour boxing and wrestling training sessions twice a week. The training must be delivered as in sports clubs. It is necessary to teach the people how to shoot during wrestling and shoot from the ground. They must learn how to use gas, handcuffs, and batons. This must be done not just to check the box – but to really convey the trainer’s skills to the trainees. 

Concurrently, all the three respondents agreed that the current state of the police force is more convenient for the supreme command under the circumstances. Therefore, all these plans are utopian. When asked whether similar trends are observed in other enforcement structures, the expert answered in the affirmative. The MIA officer has commented as follows: 

— The situation is the same everywhere – in our agency, in the Federal Penitentiary Service, in the Federal Bailiff Service... Perhaps, it is slightly better in the FSB because very few of their commanders are really stupid. But overall...



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