Officer Tommy Merino is a retired police officer who has been training new recruits at the Camden County Police Academy in New Jersey for over 15 years. He also holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Professor John Hassett at Hassett’s Jiu-Jitsu Club in Sewell, New Jersey.
Officer Merino believes that one of the biggest problems plaguing jiu-jitsu academies today is the insufficient self-defense training. In fact, he opined that police officers would “have at minimum 50% less excessive force issues and deadly force issues” if jiu-jitsu training were stressed at police academies.
The Jiu-Jitsu Times spoke with Officer Tommy Merino via Facebook chat on Sunday. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How do you teach police officers and how, if at all, does it differ from what civilians are taught?
Officer Tommy Merino: Teaching cops is not as different as you would think. We use the Gracie Combatives system at our schools and I teach the same program at the academy. The major difference is that as cops you are fighting for your life, literally! On the mat it’s more for self-defense and the sport end of it, of course. I try and teach the recruits most of the self-defense basics: standing in base, takedowns, mount, side control, back, and several joint manipulations and carotid restraints. We never use the term “choke” or “strangle” in police work. The sad part is we try and jam it all in in only a few days of training at the academy. That is one of biggest concerns with training recruits today…not enough self-defense training!
JJT: What would you recommend the academy do to give police officers the requisite training?
OTM: Self-defense every single day that the recruits are in the academy! They stress academics and PT, but some academies lack self-defense, which is the most important part of being a police officer.
At Camden County Police Academy, where I instruct, they put together one of the best programs for self-defense. They removed a lot of the “fluff” that used to be taught and replaced it with jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing. The program is awesome! The officer who is in charge of the academy is a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and has a ton of experience in MMA and wrestling. When he took over, that was one of the best things that could have happened. He contacted me and we totally got the ball rolling with jiu-jitsu at the academy! Since he is a purple belt and spends a lot of time with the recruits, he will go over a lot of jiu-jitsu the entire time the recruits are in.
I come in for about five days and we clean the recruits up and get them in “live” matches. We do this the last week before graduation since we do have some injuries. I must say that if every academy and police department in the country stressed self-defense as much as they do everything else, we would decrease the officer-involved shootings drastically! Some of these officers have never been a fight. It is just absurd to think that someone with a gun has never had any hand-to-hand training but can take a life! It’s just crazy! I was involved in a shooting where I had to shoot a subject who had stabbed another officer and I am glad I was a blue belt at the time and could use the jiu-jitsu I learned from John Hassett to save my life and another officers and not use excessive force to handle the situation.
Just a side note…Camden County Police Academy follows the New Jersey Police training commission guidelines and we add what we can to that. Just want to be clear that we follow the rules.
I must say that if every academy and police department in the country stressed self-defense as much as they do everything else, we would decrease the officer-involved shootings drastically! Some of these officers have never been a fight. It is just absurd to think that someone with a gun has never had any hand to hand training but can take a life!
I can tell you from being in law enforcement and being a black belt that if the officers learned self-defense — and by that I mean jiu-jitsu — we would have at minimum 50% less excessive force issues and deadly force issues. I worked in a few of the worst towns in New Jersey. I have seen officers completely lose all composure when the subject they tried to arrest challenged them, either by panic because they had no clue what to do now that they would need to use force and also by using too much force since they had no training on how to handle that situation. I have seen officers resign after the first fight they got into with a subject on the street, all because they had no training and thought that the badge was enough to make them tough.
If we make it mandatory for all officers to learn some type of self-defense and continue that education, we would have much fewer issues.
In Part 2 of this interview, Officer Tommy Merino will talk about the time he unfortunately had to take a life while on duty.