The small room had a huge mat lying in the middle. Todd Alber sat on a bench in a corner, carefully attaching protective gear to his knees, wrists, chest and head. A few minutes later, a police officer entered the room and the two men begin to fight.
After 30 seconds of wrestling and twisting, Alber is stretched out on the ground and breathing heavy. Jeff Rukstad, a 29-year-old police officer, crouched on top of him.
“Put your hands on your back,” Rukstad shouts.
Alber ignores the command. Instead, he lifts his head, turns toward Rukstad and says, “Good job.”
Alber was one of the instructors giving the Columbia police officers courses on ground fighting techniques, which had not been included in the department’s yearly training until this year.
All of the 120 police officers in Columbia were required to take the course on Monday, Wednesday or today, grabbing and grasping with their colleagues.
“We don’t train them to hurt, but to prevent injury of both of the officer and the person we fight with,” said Alber, a police officer who has been teaching defensive tactics in Columbia for 11 years. “If they go to jail, they go to jail, but nobody gets hurt.”
A majority of officer injuries happen on the ground, according to Sgt. Ken Gregory. It happens when the encounter goes to the ground or when the officer has physically restrained an individual on the ground.
Alber thought under critical circumstances, such as fights in the street, most police officers were using less force than they should have. They could go up to a higher level to keep themselves and other people safe. The class is aimed to increase the policemen’s fighting skills legitimately and efficiently.
“It’s especially useful for female officers,” said Sgt. Dianne Bernhard, who attended the training on Wednesday. “Many times we arrest people much bigger than we are.”
Bernhard recalled one incident when she stopped an intoxicated driver near the MU campus. When she wanted to put the man under arrest, he struggled to escape.
“I ended up using some of the techniques they taught in previous training and got the man to the ground until my backup came to handcuff him,” Bernhard said. “It was scary.”
Techniques being taught in the ground fighting class include grab and grasp, and pressure point control tactics.
“It’s very useful knowledge to have whenever you patrol,” said Amy Bishop, one of the five instructors. “The officers can learn some new techniques they haven’t been taught before.”
On Wednesday, 30 police officers scattered on the mats in a room at the Army Reserve Center, practicing the self-defense tactics. They learned to fight from different positions on the ground.
Scenario training took place in a small room a few steps away. Officers came in one at a time, starting with lying on their backs and managing to fight their way out. Eight hours of training was not a big problem for the cops not in uniform.
“We need to keep in shape,” said Jason Jones, who has been a Columbia Police Officer for four years. “It’s not too hard.”
But for the instructor, it was not just a routine workout. By noon, Alber had fought 17 officers in scenario fighting with another 13 waiting to fight.