Auburn police say neck restraint is a safe alternative to lethal force

                                Auburn Police Cmdr. Cristian Adams demonstrating the VNR on Sgt. James Frith at the Auburn City Council meeting.

Screenshot Auburn Police Cmdr. Cristian Adams demonstrating the VNR on Sgt. James Frith at the Auburn City Council meeting.

The Auburn Police Department endorses neck restraints to help control and apprehend suspects who will not comply with orders from officers.

On Monday, Police Chief Dan O’Neil, Assistant Chief Mark Caillier, Cmdr. Cristian Adams and Sgt. James Frith addressed the Auburn City Council on the lateral vascular neck restraint (VNR), the preferred alternative of many police departments over lethal force, billy clubs, batons, pepper spray, strikes, kicks and tasers.

The city council asked for the session in response to the recent killing of George Floyd — a black man who recently perished under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer — and to other deaths in the news that have brought police behavior under intense scrutiny.

“It’s important for people to know the difference between a stranglehold and a vascular neck restraint,” said Frith, a defensive tactics instructor and 22-year veteran of the APD.

A choke, which is from the front, Frith said, restricts the airway and can damage the esophagus and the trachea. The VNR compresses the side of the neck, where there are muscles to protect the carotid arteries and other crucial and delicate tissues, and greatly decreases the risk for injury, he said.

There is no significant front pressure applied to the neck, Frith said.

Bilateral compression of the carotid arteries and jugular veins at the sides of the neck diminishes cerebral circulation, he said, and this abrupt reduction of blood flow reduces the violator’s ability to resist and can lead to unconsciousness within 10 to 15 seconds, Frith said.

“Basically, it makes the person go to sleep and wake up in handcuffs,” Frith said. “Reduction in the blood flow reduces the violator’s ability to resist, and it can lead to unconsciousness. It doesn’t always lead to unconsciousness because we find that a lot of people give up once they start feeling like they are going to go to sleep.”

If the violator doesn’t fall asleep in 15 seconds, the officer will try something else, Frith said, adding that this method when properly applied has been shown in testing and in the field to have no lasting adverse affects.

Frith said the VNR has its risks, and said its improper application has led to some deaths, but they are rare. It is especially effective in gaining control over individuals who can tolerate a high degree of pain, he said, or people who are under the influence of drugs, or are excited, agitated or in a psychotic state.

“Where we see a lot of problems across the nation is excited delirium, and that’s where violators under the influence of drugs and alcohol and maybe something like PCP, and they’re amped up, and they just have super-human strength and we can’t get control of them, so the only way for law enforcement to get them under control if we don’t have the VNR is we’re going to have to use sticks and we’re going to have to beat them until they are in compliance,” Frith said. “But if we can get the neck restraint on them, we can just take them right to sleep.”

Neck restraints came under scrutiny in the 1980s because of some high-profile cases, Frith said, but those were relatively few compared to the number of times VNRs were applied. While the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on VNRs, lower courts have found them to be a reasonable application of force.

When police agencies adopt the VNR, Frith said, they typically show a reduction in use of force complaints and in officer injuries.

The Auburn Police Department’s policy on lateral vascular neck restraints requires the officer to successfully complete training in the use and application of the technique, first by taking a written test, then demonstrating a series of techniques and moves before they are certified. They are recertified every year and are trained a minimum number of hours throughout the year to continue to use it, according to the department.

Auburn police are not allowed to use the VNR on females who are known to be pregnant. The move cannot be used on the elderly, on obvious juveniles and individuals who appear to have Down syndrome or who appear to have obvious neck deformities, malformations or visible injuries, according to the department.

If an officer does use a vascular neck restraint and renders a person unconscious, the APD requires that the person be seen and monitored by medical personnel.

“Once the medical personnel clear them and they are taken to jail, we have to notify the jail staff receiving the individual that the person was rendered unconscious by the VNR, and they are monitored for a certain amount of time by the jail. In addition, whenever an officer uses a VNR, they have to notify the sergeant or on-duty supervisor that they used that neck restraint so the officer can be investigated and the use of the VNR can be documented,” Frith said.

Councilmember Chris Stearns cited data showing that a ban on the use of lateral vascular neck restraints “does lead to a lower level of police killings… The research of the Use of Force Project shows that it reduces police violence by 22 percent.”

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